Chan Tong-kai, whose case led to the Hong Kong government’s introduction of a controversial extradition bill that triggered the biggest protests in the city’s history, was freed from prison on Oct. 23.
Chan, a Hong Kong resident, is wanted in Taiwan for allegedly murdering his then-pregnant girlfriend, Poon Hiu-wing, while the two were on a trip to Taiwan in 2018. Poon’s body was later found in a suitcase that was dumped in a field close to a subway station in northern Taiwan.
Chan returned to Hong Kong before Taiwan authorities could investigate the crime. Hong Kong prosecutors arrested Chan in March 2018 on charges of money laundering, for stealing Poon’s money and valuables after her death—but did not press charges related to Poon’s death, owing to lack of evidence.
Chan walked free on Wednesday after 19 months in prison. He was met with a large crowd of journalists.
Speaking to the media, he begged for forgiveness from the Hong Kong public and apologized to Poon’s family, bowing twice for the “irreparable mistake he made” and the resulting “pain and agony.” He added that he was willing to go to Taiwan to surrender and face prosecution for his “impulsive act.”
Asked by journalists whether he planned to travel to Taiwan soon, Chan evaded answering, only repeating that he was “sorry.”
Chan’s case had ignited the largest crisis in Hong Kong, after authorities used it to push through an extradition bill that would allow any region, including mainland China, to transfer criminal suspects from Hong Kong. Millions took to the streets in protest, fearing that the proposal would allow Beijing—which took back sovereignty of the territory in 1997—to erode the city’s autonomy and undermine their basic rights.
After months of mass protests, the city leader Carrie Lam announced in September that the bill would be shelved. On the same day as Chan’s release, the city’s legislature formally enacted a motion to withdraw the bill.
The handling of Chan’s case has since sparked a political row between the Hong Kong and Taiwan governments.
Taiwan earlier requested permission to send law enforcement personnel to Hong Kong and take Chan back, but Hong Kong officials said Taiwan authorities had no right to do so in the territory, dismissing the request as “extreme disrespect to the Hong Kong government’s jurisdiction.” The Hong Kong government suggested instead that Chan be allowed to travel to Taiwan himself to surrender.
The Hong Kong government announced on Oct. 18 that Chan had written a letter to Lam expressing his wish to surrender to Taiwan authorities.
“The accused person has already indicated his willingness to surrender and it should be handled quickly without hindrance, so that justice is done,” said John Lee, Hong Kong secretary for security, during an Oct. 23 press conference. He called on Taiwan to facilitate Chan’s surrender “rather than laying all the hurdles and restrictions.”
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs hit back at the Hong Kong government on Oct. 23, saying that it was a “shame” that the Hong Kong leader repeatedly denied their request for “judicial cooperation.”
Since November 2018, Taiwan had sought to work out a mutual legal agreement with Hong Kong, wishing to negotiate a bilateral extradition treaty similar to those Hong Kong has signed with over 30 other countries—in order to request Chan’s transfer.
But Hong Kong authorities have refused, according to the Taiwan government, which it believed equated to treating Taiwan, a self-ruled island with its own democratic government and military, as another part of China. Beijing claims Taiwan as a renegade province that will be united with the mainland in the future, with military force if necessary.
“We want to do the right thing but Carrie Lam, with China backing her, only seeks to inject a messy debate into Taiwan. We support freedom & democracy in Hong Kong, but refuse to let Lam [and] China mess with Taiwan,” the foreign ministry said on Twitter.
It added that the Hong Kong government was seeking to legitimize the extradition bill by setting Chan free. “He’s a murder suspect & must be brought to justice via judicial cooperation with Taiwan, not letting him travel like a tourist,” the ministry said.
Meanwhile, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen told reporters on Wednesday that since Hong Kong has refused to handle the case, Taiwan would take the responsibility.