Hundreds of thousands of people are protesting on the streets in Hong Kong against a controversial new law that some believe could allow China to target political opponents in the territory.
The extradition bill would make way for suspected criminals to be sent back to mainland China to undergo trial.
Critics fear the city would be forced into China’s highly flawed justice system, prompting further erosion to the former British colony’s judicial independence.
Rocky Chang, a 59-year-old professor joining in on the protests, went as far as describing the legislation as ‘evil.’ He told Reuters: ‘This is the end game for Hong Kong, it is a matter of life or death. That’s why I come. This is an evil law.’
An 18-year-old student living in the city told AFP: ‘The people’s voices are not being heard. This bill will not just affect Hong Kong’s reputation as an international finance centre, but also our judicial system. That has an impact on my future.’
The government says the bill has built in protections and safeguards to prevent anyone facing religious or political persecution from being extradited to mainland China. Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam is pushing for the amendments to be passed before next month.
Protests against the controversial are said to be the biggest the city has seen since the Umbrella movement in 2014, which saw thousands take to the streets. Hundreds of thousands of people are battling sweltering heat in the city dressed in white, from lawyers to students to religious groups and democracy figures.
According to BBC China reporter Martin Yip, the protest is a peaceful and orderly march as he explains ‘people help each other out. They fan for each other, help push the wheelchairs. Water refill stations have been set up by volunteers too.’
The extradition law will only apply to criminal wrongdoing like murder and rape, and requests will be decided on a case by case basis. Officials say Hong Kong courts will have the final decision on whether to extradite the case to mainland China.
The change in law came about after a 19-year-old Hong Kong man allegedly killed his pregnant girlfriend last year while they were on holiday in Taiwan before returning to Hong Kong. Taiwan asked for help in extraditing the man but Hong Kong officials said they couldn’t comply because of the lack of an extradition agreement with Taiwan.
However, Taiwanese government has said it will not seek to extradite the murder suspect under the proposed changes, and has urged Hong Kong to handle the case separately.