After a week of citywide protests in Hong Kong, the largest in the city’s history, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has agreed to suspend indefinitely a controversial extradition bill that would increase Beijing’s influence over Hong Kong’s criminal justice system.
Lam made the announcement Saturday evening at a press conference, an unexpected turn of events after she had vowed to push the bill through the Legislature before the end of its summer working session.
“The decision I made is not about pacifying people or, as some have said, restoring my damaged reputation,” Lam stated. “This is time to restore as quickly as possible calmness in society.”
Civil protests began on Sunday, June 9, when as many as 1 million demonstrators filled the streets to express outrage over the proposed bill that would expand the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) ability to capture and extradite criminal suspects from Hong Kong. Many in Hong Kong fear that this law could be used as a political weapon and target anyone whom China’s communist party views as a political opponent. This could include democracy supporters, journalists and human rights critics, among others.
The proposed extradition law has also been unpopular with business leaders in the region, some of whom have been outspoken and even threatened to leave Hong Kong, rather than be subjected to an uncertain and politically charged legal environment.
Hong Kong legislators were unable to review and debate the bill this week as planned, when tens of thousands of demonstrators surrounded the Legislative Council Complex beginning Wednesday. The area has remained closed since then, with police barricading the main buildings.
Both demonstrators and police became increasingly violent throughout the week. Police in riot gear confronted protesters throughout the city on Wednesday, using tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons to disperse large crowds. On Thursday, Hong Kong authorities reported that at least 81 people were being treated for injuries at local hospitals. Two remained in serious condition on Friday.
Lam assumed her role as executive of China’s Special Administrative Region in June 2017, after her approval by members of the CCP’s Politburo. While she has been quick to point out that she is not a “puppet of Beijing,” Lam ultimately reports to Party Secretary Xi Jinping.
She now finds herself in a difficult position. Hong Kong legislators and members of Hong Kong’s Election Committee had begun to call for her resignation, while mass protests have all but brought the city to a standstill, demanding the extradition bill be abandoned.