Thousands of black-clad Hong Kong lawyers took to the streets Thursday in a silent march against a controversial extradition law proposal, as the city’s last colonial governor slammed the plan as “a terrible blow”.
The city’s pro-Beijing government is pushing a bill through the legislature that would allow extraditions to any jurisdiction with which it doesn’t already have a treaty — including mainland China for the first time.
The proposal has sparked some of the biggest protests the city has seen in recent years as well as criticism from influential legal groups, business associations and western diplomats.
This week has seen escalating criticism from the city’s influential legal communities, including the Law Society which published a detailed critique of the proposals , adding to opposition already voiced by the Bar Association and multiple chambers of commerce.
Critics fear the law, if passed, will entangle people in China’s opaque and politicised court system.
The lawyers, mostly dressed in black, walked in silence from the Court of Final Appeal to the government headquarters, where they gathered to observe three minutes of silence.
Organisers said around 2,500 to 3,000 people attended the march.
“As you can all see that they come out for one reason and one reason only, because they see there is a threat to the rule of law in Hong Kong,” said lawmaker Dennis Kwok, who organised the march.
“This extradition bill, if passed, would do irreparable damage to our legal system, to the rule of law, to the values that we treasure.”
Legal professionals have gathered to protest only five times since the former British colony was handed to China.
Pro-democracy heavyweight and lawyer Martin Lee said: “Once the bill becomes law, we can not guarantee the safety of any person living or working in Hong Kong, or even passing by Hong Kong.”
Another former lawmaker, Audrey Eu, added: “This amendment is being rushed through with indecent and inexplicable haste. There is absolutely no justification for pushing it through like this.”
Earlier, Hong Kong’s last British governor, Chris Patten, described the plans to allow extraditions to China as “a terrible blow” to the financial hub’s reputation.
“It’s a proposal, or a set of proposals, which strike a terrible blow… against the rule of law, against Hong Kong’s stability and security, against Hong Kong’s position as a great international trading hub,” he said in a video statement.
The government has argued the proposal is needed to plug existing loopholes and that the law needs to be passed quickly in order to extradite a Hong Kong man who is wanted in Taiwan for murdering his girlfriend.
But critics fear the Taiwanese case is being used to ram the law through the city’s parliament at the behest of Beijing.
Patten described the move as an attempt “to remove the firewall between Hong Kong’s rule of law” and China “where there aren’t any independent courts, where the courts and the security services and the party’s rules… are rolled all together”.