Hong Kong’s top official, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, issued a formal apology for her handling of the controversial extradition bill, and acknowledged that it was now “unlikely” to move forward, at a press conference on June 18.
But she stopped short of retracting the bill, drawing the ire of protest groups who vowed to keep demonstrating until their demands were met.
This past Saturday, Lam had announced that the bill would be indefinitely suspended, following widespread protests. Hong Kongers fear that the proposal, which would allow mainland China to seek extradition of criminal suspects, would allow the Chinese regime to punish its critics on trumped-up charges.
Locals were dissatisfied with the suspension. The following day, citizens staged the city’s largest-ever protest, with roughly two million people marching to call for the bill’s full withdrawal and Lam’s resignation.
“The reality is, the bill has caused many anxieties, concerns, and chaos in the process of its discussion,” Lam said on Tuesday evening. “For this, I offer my most sincere apology.”
She promised that the legislative process on the bill would not resume “without careful consideration.”
When pressed by journalists on why she would not completely scrap the bill, Lam sidestepped the question, only saying that she hoped people would “be understanding.”
When asked whether she would resign, Lam said she intended to accomplish more work for the city in the remaining three years of her term.
And when questioned on whether the police’s firing of rubber bullets, teargas, and bean bags to disperse protesters on June 12 was justified, Lam said that was for the city’s police complaints council to decide, saying that she “cannot make a judgment today.”
Civil Human Rights Front, the organizer behind the city’s largest anti-bill protests, said her apology was “insincere” and “pointless,” as it failed to address their central demands of: full withdrawal, her resignation, and holding the police accountable for their June 12 actions. Over 80 civilians were injured amid clashes with police that day.
“Her entire press conference made zero difference. She did not address the public’s questions but only reinstated her own stance,” Jimmy Sham, convener at CHRF said at a press conference following Lam’s.
Sham added that Hongkongers were persisting in calling for the bill’s full withdrawal, despite its already suspended status, “because we have lost our trust in Carrie Lam.”
“The people’s trust in the government is all gone,” Sham said.
CHRF also condemned Lam’s failure to address public complaints about police brutality.
“That is totally a lie,” CHRF said in response to Lam’s claims about the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) being effective.
Hong Kong has adopted a two-tier police complaints system—consisting of the IPCC, a civilian body, and the Complaints Against Police Office (CAPO), a unit within the Hong Kong Police Force. The role of the IPCC is to monitor, review, and put forward recommendations regarding complaints against the police filed at CAPO.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) issued a June 17 report detailing photographic and video evidence to support their claims of abuse by police officers while covering protests from June 10 to June 14. The report was compiled after interviewing 26 journalists.
They cited ten cases of police officers firing tear gas at journalists at close range, and three cases of journalists being chased by police and hit with batons, resulting in either physical harm or property loss.
The HKJA called on Lam to set up an independent committee to “ascertain whether [a] top-level order was the cause of these wide-spread and violent abuses,” adding that they had already filed a complaint with the IPCC.
The CHRF similarly urged for an independent investigative commission to investigate police for excessive force in dispersing protesters, and called for witnesses and people with videographic evidence to come forward.
On Tuesday, the group said the city’s current system lacked real teeth in holding police accountable. “The current police complaint system is basically the police force investigating its own people … thus imposes zero deterrence on the police.”
The CHRF is expected to release plans about upcoming protests and actions on Wednesday after meeting with pro-democracy legislators and other concerned parties.
“We hope all Hong Kong citizens unite together and stay on the same page, and we will continue fighting,” said Sham.
Joshua Wong, activist and secretary general of the pro-democracy political party Demosisto, also spoke of more protests following Lam’s apology, which he called “not sincere at all.”
“No matter how [Chinese] President Xi Jinping or Carrie Lam tries to ignore the requests from people, or silence the voice from Hong Kong citizens, more and more rallies, actions, or protests, will happen soon, especially before the G20 Summit and also before the 22nd anniversary of the Hong Kong handover [on July 1],” Wong said.