Amid massive protests in Hong Kong, its leader Carrie Lam on Saturday suspended indefinitely the controversial extradition bill, which allowed extradition of suspects to be mainland China for trial.
The decision was announced by Chief Executive Carrie Lam in a press conference, who said that the bill has caused intense division in the society and her government is calling for time to “pause and think.”
Around a million people marched through Hong Kong last Sunday to oppose the bill.
According to protest organizers, the protests were the largest the city saw since the large scale protests in the against the bloody suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations centered around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in June 1989.
The demonstrations that continued through the week were meted out with a confrontation with the security forces.
The protests continued through the week and were met with tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets from police, into turmoil and piling heavy pressure on Lam. Another protest was planned for this Sunday.
“After repeated internal deliberations over the last two days, I now announce that the government has decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise, restart our communication with all sectors of society, do more explanation work and listen to different views of society,” Lam told a news conference.
However, she said there was no deadline, effectively suspending the process indefinitely.
According to Reuters, support for the extradition bill began to collapse on Friday with several pro-Beijing politicians and a senior advisor to Lam saying discussion of the bill should be deferred for the time being.
The leader had earlier said the extradition law is necessary to prevent criminals using Hong Kong as a place to hide and that human rights will be safeguarded by the city’s court which will decide on case-by-case basis extradition.
The extradition bill, which would cover Hong Kong’s 7 million residents as well as foreign and Chinese nationals in the city, was seen by many as a threat to the rule of law in the former British colony.
Beyond the public outrage, the extradition bill had made some of Hong Kong’s businessmen agitated when they starting to move their personal wealth offshore, financial experts told Reuters.
Last Sunday’s protest in the semi-autonomous city was the biggest political demonstration since its return to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” deal. The deal guarantees Hong Kong’s special autonomy, including freedom of assembly, free press and an independent judiciary.
Many have accused Beijing of extensive meddling in Hong Kong, including obstruction of democratic reforms, interference with elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers. The booksellers specialized in starting in works critical of Chinese leaders, Reuters reported.
However, the Chinese government has denied any interference efforts in Hong Kong. It had earlier termed the mass protests against the extradition bill as “riots”, adding that it supported the local government’s response.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang earlier this week told the media that the protests were “an act that undermines Hong Kong’s stability.” He maintained, “We support the Hong Kong government’s dealing with the situation in accordance with the law.”