Hong Kong businesses pledge closures as extradition anger builds

Tuesday June 11 2019

Hong Kong protests.

Protesters attend a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong on June 9, 2019. 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. PHOTO | DALE DE LA REY | AFP 

AFP
By AFP
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Scores of Hong Kong businesses have vowed to shut Wednesday and protesters have planned another mass rally outside the city's Parliament as anger builds over the government's push to allow extraditions to China.

The financial hub was rocked by a huge protest march over the weekend -- the largest since the city's 1997 return to China -- as vast crowds called on authorities to scrap the Beijing-backed plan.

Many are fearful the proposed law will tangle people in the mainland's opaque courts and hammer Hong Kong's reputation as an international business hub.

Organisers of the march said more than a million people took to the streets on Sunday, but the record crowds have failed to sway chief executive Carrie Lam who has rejected calls to withdraw or delay the bill and warned opponents against committing "radical acts".

A group of Christians sing hymns at a peaceful
A group of Christians sing hymns at a peaceful protest against a controversial plan to allow extraditions to the mainland, outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on June 11, 2019. PHOTO | ANTHONY WALLACE | AFP

On Wednesday, lawmakers will begin the next debate on the bill in the city's legislature, which is dominated by Beijing loyalists. A final vote is expected on June 20.

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Protest groups have vowed to stage a fresh rally outside the building Wednesday morning -- although it was not yet clear whether police would allow it to take place.

Organisers have billed the gathering as a "picnic" in a park next to the building, but cordons have been thrown up in the area while Parliament itself is now surrounded by metal barriers and a heavy police presence.

A separate online petition calling on protesters to gather Tuesday evening and camp overnight outside Parliament heightened tensions, with police stopping multiple young people for searches.

In the early hours of Monday, officers fought running battles with small groups of hard-line protesters who had made similar plans to spend the night.

Protesters block the protest area of
Protesters block the protest area of Legislative Council with barricades during clashes with police after a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong on June 10, 2019. PHOTO | PHILIP FONG | AFP

Ahead of Wednesday's debate, business owners took to social media using a hashtag that translates as "#612strike" -- the date of the proposed action -- to announce solidarity closures.

A large chunk are mom-and-pop style stores and small businesses that are a key part of the city's economy, but which often eschew the city's raucous street politics.

By Tuesday morning, more than 100 businesses had declared plans to strike, ranging from coffee shops and restaurants to camera stores, toy shops, nail salons, yoga studios and even an adult entertainment store.

"Hong Kong was built by our various generations with hard work," wrote Meet Yoga studio on its Instagram account. "A Hong Kong without freedom -- how about we just wipe it off the map entirely and call it China?"

The city's major student unions said they would boycott classes to attend the rallies, while a string of other prominent unions in the transport, social work and teaching sectors either followed suit or encouraged members to attend.

Police gather at a rally against a
Police gather at a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong on early June 10, 2019. PHOTO | PHILIP FONG | AFP

On Tuesday, Lam warned against strikes, a protest method that is not readily embraced in the business-centric city.

"I urge schools, parents, groups, corporations and unions to carefully consider, if they call for these radical acts, what good would it do for Hong Kong society and our youth?" RTHK quoted her as asking.

The proposed law would allow extraditions to any jurisdiction with which Hong Kong does not already have a treaty -- including mainland China.

Hong Kong's leaders say it is needed to plug loopholes and to stop the city being a sanctuary for fugitives, and that safeguards are in place to ensure that political critics of Beijing will not be targeted.

Many Hong Kongers have little faith in the government's assurances after years of heightened fears that a resurgent Beijing is trying to quash the city's unique freedoms and culture.

Protesters march during a demonstration in Los
Protesters march during a demonstration in Los Angeles on June 9, 2019 to protest against a controversial extradition law proposed by Hong Kong's pro-Beijing government to ease extraditions to China. PHOTO | RINGO CHIU | AFP

Massive pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014 failed to win any concessions while protest leaders have been imprisoned or banned from politics.

On Tuesday, New Zealand's top court stopped a murder suspect from being extradited to Shanghai in a landmark ruling that gave a scathing assessment of China's courts.

The Court of Appeal noted a culture of torture, forced confessions and months-long interrogations without lawyers in China's judicial system while defence counsels were often persecuted.

Opposition to extradition unites a wide cross-section of Hong Kong, including lawyers and legal bodies, business figures and chambers of commerce, journalists, activists and religious leaders.

Protesters march during a rally against a
Protesters march during a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong on June 9, 2019. Huge protest crowds thronged Hong Kong on June 9 as anger swelled over plans to allow extraditions to China. PHOTO | DALE DE LA REY | AFP

The pastor of a usually pro-government mega-church issued a statement saying he could not support the bill while the Catholic diocese urged Lam -- a devout Catholic -- to delay the bill.

Western governments have also voiced alarm. The US this week warned the bill would put people at risk of "China's capricious judicial system".

China fired back Tuesday, with a foreign ministry official calling the comments "irresponsible and erroneous", adding that Beijing "resolutely opposes interference in Hong Kong affairs".

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