A planned debate among lawmakers on Hong Kong’s controversial extradition bill was abruptly canceled after protesters swarmed the government building where the Legislative Council (LegCo) was set to convene.
The bill, first proposed in February, would allow mainland China to seek the extradition of suspects wanted by the Chinese regime. A broad opposition has since emerged, concerned that the bill could allow the Chinese Communist Party to charge and extradite with impunity.
Local police used pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, and bean bags in an attempt to remove protesters from the streets.
The LegCo was originally scheduled to begin debating at 11 a.m. on June 12.
However, the meeting was abruptly canceled before 11 a.m., following an announcement by Andrew Leung, the pro-Beijing head of LegCo. According to Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), Leung announced that the meeting had been postponed, but he did not provide an explanation for the delay, or set an alternative date.
Tens of thousands of protesters who had gathered outside of LegCo welcomed Leung’s decision with a roar of approval.
The original schedule has slated the next legislative meeting to begin at 9 a.m. on June 13.
The cancellation meant that a scheduled question and answer session with Hong Kong’s top leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam inside LegCo was also shelved.
Lam’s whereabouts became a mystery. Some Hong Kong media reported that Lam did not arrive at LegCo at all Wednesday. In the afternoon, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange made an announcement that its evening bouquet to celebrate its 19th anniversary of listing, where Lam was originally scheduled to make an appearance, was postponed.
Local police used pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, and bean bags in an attempt to remove protestors from the streets. pic.twitter.com/h0vClOcDgW
— The Epoch Times (@EpochTimes) June 12, 2019
Local police used pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets in an attempt to remove protestors from the streets. pic.twitter.com/RFSxspwFeT
— The Epoch Times (@EpochTimes) June 12, 2019
Chants of “now we are back,” “no China extradition, no evil law,” and “scrap it” could be heard among protesters, most of them young people wearing black, throughout the streets near LegCo and the Hong Kong government headquarters on June 12.
“Now we are back” was a reference to the Umbrella Movement in 2014, when protesters calling for universal suffrage camped out on the streets of Hong Kong’s main business district in Central for about 3 months. The movement ended without protesters’ demands being met, while several of its main organizers have since been jailed.
The protest to surround the LegCo building was called by the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), who also organized the June 9 march that drew 1.03 million to the streets in protest of the extradition bill.
On its Facebook page, the CHRF posted locations of clinics and supply booths that have been set up near the LegCo building, for protesters to locate on a map.
On June 12 afternoon, Jimmy Sham, a CHRF organizer, speaking in front of protesters, announced that the group would not withdraw from the streets until the city government scraps the bill, according to RTHK.
By around 3 p.m. local time, local police outside the government headquarters began using pepper spray against protesters who tried to cross the police line. Some protesters tried to throw objects at the police. According to onsite reporters from the Hong Kong bureau of The Epoch Times, Lam Cheuk-ting, a Democratic Party politician who was at the scene, was also hit with police spray.
— The Fact of China (@thefactofchina) June 12, 2019
At 10 minutes before 4 p.m. local time, local police began using tear gas to disperse protesters gathered at Tim Wa Avenue and the west side of the government headquarters.
About half an hour later, Hong Kong police chief Stephen Lo confirmed that the police had used tear gas, rubber bullets, and bean bags in an attempt to clear protesters around the Admiralty neighborhood where government buildings are located, according to Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP).
— Please save Hong Kong (@save_hk_please) June 12, 2019
There have been reports of protester injuries. Gary Fan, a Hong Kong politician, published a picture on his Facebook page of an injured student who was bleeding profusely, after being hit in the eye by a bean bag.
Hong Kong media HKet reported that a male driver surnamed Chong working for RTHK became unconscious on his way to the hospital, after being hit by tear gas at Citic Tower located opposite of LegCo.
Filmed at 16:15
Second round of tear gas, used to clear Tim Ma Avenue pic.twitter.com/OTzYRz3Tn7
— Hong Kong Hermit (@HongKongHermit) June 12, 2019
Hong Kong media reported that at least 22 protesters have been injured and taken to the hospital.
Bao Tong, former secretary of the late reformist Chinese Communist Party official Zhao Ziyang, in an interview with the Hong Kong bureau of the Epoch Times, condemned the police for firing bean bags.
“Governments firing at their own people—Beijing is capable of doing that and now the Hong Kong government. This isn’t ‘one country, two systems.’ This is ‘one country, one system.’ The system of June 4 [Tiananmen Square Massacre] is that a government can fire at its people,” Bao said.
By June 12 evening, protesters were forced out of roads around LegCo and had taken over roads in Central, according to RTHK.
— HK-妮珂（新號） (@Hk60740379Hk) June 12, 2019
The pressure is mounting against Lam to scrap the extradition bill from inside and outside of Hong Kong.
Two Hong Kong college students told the Hong Kong bureau of The Epoch Times’ sister media NTD about why they took part in the protest on June 12.
Li, a student from the University of Hong Kong, said that the extradition bill “directly dealt a blow to Hong Kong’s core value.” He added that if the bill passes, “Hong Kong wouldn’t be Hong Kong anymore, but one of the municipalities of mainland China.”
“After recent years, it is obvious that the Hong Kong government is a pawn of the Chinese Communist Party. After the Umbrella Movement, the government here hasn’t made any changes,” said Chan, another University of Hong Kong student.
On June 11, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined several other lawmakers to publicly expressed concerns about the bill’s threat to Hong Kong’s autonomy.
“The China-controlled Legislative Council’s proposed extradition bill chillingly showcases Beijing’s brazen willingness to trample over the law to silence dissent and stifle the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong,” Pelosi said in a statement.
The hearts of all freedom-loving people were moved by the courage of the one million men & women of Hong Kong who took to the streets to peacefully demand their rights & denounce this horrific extradition bill. America stands with the people of Hong Kong. https://t.co/wX01v5xzHs
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) June 12, 2019
She added: “The extradition bill imperils the strong U.S.-Hong Kong relationship that has flourished for two decades.
“If it passes, the Congress has no choice but to reassess whether Hong Kong is ‘sufficiently autonomous’ under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework.”
Meanwhile, U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, in a June 12 statement, urged the Hong Kong government “to listen to the concerns of its people and friends in the international community,” and take steps to “preserve Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms and high degree of autonomy.”
Local police in Hong Kong has also been accused of interfering with news reporting in the early hours of June 10 when protesters clashed with police officers outside of the LegCo building.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) issued a statement, condemning the police for “totally ignoring the safety of journalists and severely trampling on their right to reporting,“ according to a June 12 article by HKFP.
The statement said that reporters and journalists from various media were “unreasonably removed from the scene by police” on June 10, while some journalists were insulted when police officers called them “trash.”
HKJA said it has demanded a meeting with Hong Kong police chief Steven Lo.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in a June 11 press release, said it urged the Hong Kong government to abandon the bill in a letter dated June 6. RSF highlighted that the law would allow the regime to extradite to journalists and their sources, threatening press freedom.
“The proposed changes will put at risk anyone in the territory of Hong Kong who has carried out work related to the Mainland, including human rights defenders, journalists, NGO workers, and social workers, even if the person was outside the Mainland when the ostensible crime was committed,” the letter stated.