Hong Kong’s lawyers march against ‘political prosecutions’

Around 3,000 legal professionals pile pressure on justice department in ninth week of protests

Thousands of Hong Kongs legal professionals have staged a march to put pressure on the citys Department of Justice over what they say are political prosecutions of protesters, after China said the territory was facing its worst crisis since it was handed back from Britain in 1997.

In the scorching midday heat about 3,000 people gathered in the heart of Hong Kongs financial district to call on the justice secretary, Teresa Cheng, to answer allegations of politically motivated prosecution, with dozens of protesters held in police stations across the semi-autonomous city.

Quick guide

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What are the Hong Kong protests about?

Why are people protesting?

The protests were triggered by a controversial bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, where the Communist party controls the courts, but have since evolved into a broader pro-democracy movement.

Public anger fuelled by the aggressive tactics used by the police against demonstrators has collided with years of frustration over worsening inequality and the cost of living in one of the world’s most expensive, densely populated cities.

The protest movement was given fresh impetus on 21 July when gangs of men attacked protesters and commuters at a mass transit station while authorities seemingly did little to intervene.

Underlying the movement is a push for full democracy in the city, whose leader is chosen by a committee dominated by a pro-Beijing establishment rather than by direct elections.

Protesters have vowed to keep their movement going until their core demands are met, such as the resignation of the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, an independent inquiry into police tactics, an amnesty for those arrested and a permanent withdrawal of the bill.

Why were people so angry about the extradition bill?

Hongkongers have seen Beijings influence grow in recent years, as activists have been jailed and pro-democracy lawmakers disqualified from running or holding office. Independent booksellers have disappeared from the city, before reappearing in mainland China facing charges.

Under the terms of the agreement by which the former British colony was returned to Chinese control in 1997, the semi-autonomous region was meant to maintain a high degree of autonomy through an independent judiciary, a free press and an open market economy, a framework known as one country, two systems.

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The extradition bill was seen as an attempt to undermine this and to give Beijing the ability to try pro-democracy activists under the judicial system of the mainland.

How have the authorities responded?

Lam has shown no sign of backing down beyond agreeing to suspend the extradition bill, while Beijing has issued increasingly shrill condemnations but has left it to the city’s semi-autonomous government to deal with the situation. Meanwhile police have violently clashed directly with protesters, repeatedly firing teargas and rubber bullets.

Beijing has ramped up its accusations that foreign countries are fanning the fire of unrest in the city. Chinas top diplomat Yang Jiechi has ordered the US to immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs in any form.

Lily Kuo and Verna Yu in Hong Kong

We see there has been selective prosecution, said a 29-year-old litigator who would only give her name as JL.

Referring to attacks on demonstrators by suspected triads, she said: The [lack of prosecutions over the] white shirt attack in Yuen Long, compared to the speed of charging so-called rioters, theres a difference in how police handle the case.

JL was part of the thick line of legal professionals dressed sombrely in black snaking 200 metres uphill from the court of final appeals to the offices of the justice department.

It is rare for the citys legal sector to take part in protests. People are sceptical, she said. We need to restore that trust [of the legal sector] in society and thats why were here today.

All we want is justice, all we want is consistency, we dont want to see thugs get away while the best of our youth get prosecuted, said Kevin Yam, a barrister.

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A
A lawyer wearing a face mask watches as the rest of the march passes. Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP

We ask for justice, we ask for consistency, we ask for proper record keeping. Nothing more, nothing less.

Yam said those trying to get information from the DOJ were being told verbally, and questioned why they were not being provided with documentation. If we said that I think wed be in trouble, dont you think?

The DOJ issued a statement denying the accusations, saying prosecutors were discharging their duties fairly and without prejudice or favour.

Hong Kong is in its ninth week of consecutive mass protests, with police stating on Tuesday that they fired 800 grenades of teargas the previous day as they tried to disperse demonstrations in at least seven districts.

Quick guide

Democracy under fire in Hong Kong since 1997

Hong Kongs democratic struggles since 1997

1 July 1997:HongKong, previously a British colony, is returned to China under the framework of one country, two systems. The Basic Law constitution guarantees to protect, for the next 50 years, the democratic institutions that makeHongKongdistinct from Communist-ruled mainland China.

2003:HongKongs leaders introduce legislation that would forbid acts of treason and subversion against the Chinese government. The bill resembles laws used to charge dissidents on the mainland. An estimated half a million people turn out to protest against the bill. As a result of the backlash, further action on the proposal is halted.

2007:The Basic Law stated that the ultimate aim was forHongKongs voters to achieve a complete democracy, but China decides in 2007 that universal suffrage in elections for the chief executive cannot be implemented until 2017. Some lawmakers are chosen by business and trade groups, while others are elected by vote. In a bid to accelerate a decision on universal suffrage, five lawmakers resign. But this act is followed by the adoption of the Beijing-backed electoral changes, which expand the chief executives selection committee and add more seats for lawmakers elected by direct vote. The legislation divides HongKong’s pro-democracy camp, as some support the reforms while others say they will only delay full democracy while reinforcing a structure that favors Beijing.

2014:The Chinese government introduces a bill allowing HongKongresidents to vote for their leader in 2017, but with one major caveat: the candidates must be approved by Beijing. Pro-democracy lawmakers are incensed by the bill, which they call an example of fake universal suffrage and fake democracy. The move triggers a massive protest as crowds occupy some ofHongKongs most crowded districts for 70 days. In June 2015,HongKonglegislators formally reject the bill, and electoral reform stalls. The current chief executive, Carrie Lam, widely seen as the Chinese Communist partys favoured candidate, is hand-picked in 2017 by a 1,200-person committee dominated by pro-Beijing elites.

2019:Lam pushes amendments to extradition laws that would allow people to be sent to mainland China to face charges. The proposed legislation triggers a huge protest, with organisers putting the turnout at 1 million, and a standoff that forces the legislature to postpone debate on the bills.

Photograph: Dale de la Rey/AFP

The protests began in opposition to a now-suspended extradition law, which would have allowed suspects to be tried in mainland Chinese courts. They have now broadened, turning into a backlash against the government, fuelled by many residents fears of eroding freedoms under the tightening control of Chinas Communist party.

Zhang Xiaoming, one of the most senior Chinese officials overseeing Hong Kong affairs, spoke about the issue at a meeting set up in Shenzhen to discuss the crisis: The central government is highly concerned about Hong Kongs situation, and trying to study, make decisions and arrangements from a strategic and across-the-board level, Zhang said. Hong Kong is facing the most serious situation since its return to China.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Yang Guang, a spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macau affairs office of the Chinese government, said: Dont misjudge the situation or take restraint as a sign of weakness dont underestimate the firm resolve and tremendous power by the central government and people across China to maintain prosperity and stability in Hong Kong.

Australia on Wednesday joined Ireland, the UK, and Japan in issuing Hong Kong travel warnings. More than 5 million people visited Hong Kong in June this year, of which roughly 80% were from mainland China. Still, there are varying reports about whether tourism has been affected by the protests.

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Police said they arrested 148 people in connection with Mondays protests, and another nine on Tuesday night. A total of 589 people have been arrested in connection to the protests in the past two months.

Hong Kongs legal system, which was inherited from the British, and the prospect of being extradited to face authoritarian justice in China, was at the heart of the protests when they first broke out earlier this year.

Under the Sino-British joint declaration, Hong Kong should maintain a high degree of autonomy through an independent judiciary, a free press and an open market economy, a framework known as one country, two systems.

But, over the years, Chinese influence over Hong Kong has grown, with its government and legislature tilted in favour of Beijing. Education, publishing and the media have all come under pressure.

Original Article : HERE ;

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