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Here's What You Need to Know About Hong Kong's Mass Protests

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets, and on Monday morning, the protests turned violent.

by David Gilbert
Jun 10 2019, 11:06am

Violence erupted on the streets of Hong Kong just after midnight Monday, as protesters clashed with police and a mob stormed steel barricades. Police officers responded with batons and pepper spray, and three officers and one journalist were injured.

The huge protests, which had been peaceful throughout Sunday, were a response to the city-state’s plan to introduce legislation allowing China to extradite fugitives to the mainland. They weren’t enough to sway Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, who said Monday that the government would push ahead with the legislation, which critics say will put activists and human rights defenders in danger.

Organizers of the event said that more than one million people marched through the streets of Hong Kong. Though police put the number at just 240,000, if the organizers’ count is correct, it would make these the largest demonstrations since the city was handed back to China.

Here’s what you need to know.

Why are people protesting?

Lam’s government has proposed introducing legislation that would allow for authorities in mainland China, Taiwan and Macau to extradite people from Hong Kong.

The legislation was proposed after a 19-year-old Hong Kong man allegedly murdered his 20-year-old pregnant girlfriend while on holiday in Taiwan. He could not be extradited to Taiwan because no extradition treaty exists between the two countries.

Lam and her government claim the legislation will prevent Hong Kong from becoming a refuge for fugitives, but critics say the bill is designed to allow the Beijing government to subject critics of its regime to arbitrary detention, torture, and unfair trials.

The bill has galvanized opposition across a broad spectrum of Hong Kong residents, with typically pro-establishment business people and lawyers standing alongside students and pro-democracy advocates.

But doesn’t China govern Hong Kong?

Yes and no.

The British handed back Hong Kong to China in 1997, but under an agreement known as the Basic Law, Hong Kong retains relative autonomy for 50 years, including its own political, judicial and financial systems.

The deal also grants residents protection of certain human rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech and assembly.

Critics see the new extradition legislation as part of China’s on-going efforts to take back control of Hong Kong.

But Lam, who is one of a number of pro-Beijing legislators who make up the government in Hong Kong, claims the new legislation has nothing to do with Beijing:

“I have not received any instruction or mandate from Beijing to do this bill,” she said Monday. “We were doing it — and we are still doing it — out of our clear conscience, and our commitment to Hong Kong.”

How is China responding?

Despite nearly one in seven Hong Kong residents taking part in the march on Sunday, Beijing’s state-run media blamed “certain foreign forces” of trying to damage China by creating chaos in Hong Kong.

“Any fair-minded person would deem the amendment bill a legitimate, sensible and reasonable piece of legislation that would strengthen Hong Kong's rule of law and deliver justice,” it said.

"Unfortunately, some Hong Kong residents have been hoodwinked by the opposition camp and their foreign allies into supporting the anti-extradition campaign.”

Most citizens in China, however, remain in the dark about the scale of the protests, as international media websites are blocked and social media searches about the demonstrations were directed towards pro-Beijing websites in Hong Kong.

What happens next?

Lam conceded that she would listen to the criticisms raised by the protesters but reiterated on Monday that a second reading of the bill will take place on Wednesday, as scheduled.

Thanking all of those who took part in the protests, Lam attempted to appease her critics, saying that additional human rights safeguards proposed last month would have a legally binding effect.

But Lam’s words are unlikely to allay her critics’ fears, and another rally is planned to take place as legislators debate the bill on Wednesday.

Cover: Protesters and police clash near the Legislative Council in Hong Kong in the small hours of June 10, 2019, following a mass rally against an extradition bill that could allow the transfer of fugitives to mainland China. (Kyodo via AP Images) ==Kyodo