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Protests Continue In Hong Kong Over Extradition Bill


A time-lapse video on social media shows an overhead view of a street in Hong Kong Sunday. Early in the day, it fills with marching protesters who continue passing by that spot for hours and hours, and when the sun sets and the streetlights come on, people are still marching. People were protesting an extradition bill with mainland China which has now been delayed but not killed. Suspending that proposed law was not enough for demonstrators who want to maintain Hong Kong's relative freedom.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn has been covering this story from Hong Kong. Anthony, what was it like to be out on the streets?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: It's an amazing experience. All I can say is that Hong Kong people, for the most part, are mind-blowingly civic-minded. You know, they just packed the streets all afternoon yesterday and, in some places, all night, and then they went home to sleep in the morning, and then a few hundred of them regrouped around the government offices. And Joshua Wong came out of jail; he is a leader from the 2014 protests. And he added his voice to the demands for Hong Kong's leader to step down and for the bill to be permanently scrapped. So it looks like limited protests will continue. But I think protesters and government are regrouping and deciding what to do next.

INSKEEP: OK, let's remember some of the basics here. Hong Kong is controlled by China but under an arrangement leftover from British times, in which Hong Kong has more of a Western-style system, has a more free and open judiciary, and this proposal for an extradition law would allow people to be taken out of that system, arrested and taken to mainland China in a much less transparent system for trial - that's what has been protested. Some of the protests turned violent, of course, in the past week, with clashes between police and protesters. Did that happen on Sunday?

KUHN: No, it was completely peaceful because it's a different set of characters. On the weekends, you get families pushing strollers, and on weekdays, you get a younger crowd - kids in their teens and 20s in black shirts, who are pessimistic about the chances for nonviolent protests to succeed. The other thing is that the dynamic has shifted because the government is on the back foot. They miscalculated public opinion, and they had to make this embarrassing climbdown of shelving the bill. So protesters now want to press this advantage that they've got, but it's not clear what else they can do. They called a general strike, but there's no evidence that it's doing a lot.

INSKEEP: Anthony, thanks for the update.

KUHN: Sure thing, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anthony Kuhn.

And now let's bring in Charles Mok, a pro-democracy legislator in Hong Kong who is opposed to the extradition bill. Welcome to the program.

CHARLES MOK: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: What was it like on the streets?

MOK: Never seen so many people on the streets before; the estimate was close to 2 million. But the more important thing is that there was no police around.

INSKEEP: What do you make of the absence of police?

MOK: Well, I think, of course, they were a bit concerned because of the accusation of police brutality on Wednesday, last Wednesday, when they tried to clear the area around the legislative building. We believed that they had used excessive force. So obviously, one of the topics of the demonstration was against police brutality and calling for an investigation. So people were not - naturally, wouldn't be very happy if they see a lot of policemen around.

INSKEEP: I want to ask one question about the extradition bill itself. I understand the general concern, that you would not, if you could avoid it, want to be taken out of Hong Kong's judicial system and moved into China's less transparent system. But Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong official who has been pushing this legislation, says it is not as bad as portrayed. Let's hear some of what she has to say.


CARRIE LAM: Our proposal is based on existing legislation, with the relevant human rights safeguards and procedural safeguards, including the role of the court and a fair and impartial judicial system of Hong Kong being fully maintained.

INSKEEP: Is this true, that even if the law were to pass, that if you had a right to be tried in Hong Kong, it's where you'd be tried?

MOK: Well, the legislation didn't really give our court a lot of this power. Unlike, for example, the Canadian court with the lady from Huawei, if there is a similar situation happening in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong court would have to turn the person over to China or another jurisdiction, regardless.

INSKEEP: This is an interesting comparison. You're noting that a Chinese business executive was arrested in Canada on the request of the United States, but the extradition has proven to be a rather intricate and drawn out affair. You're saying that that would not be the case in Hong Kong were China to...

MOK: That would not be the case in Hong Kong because, in the Canadian court, they would have the right under their law to allow the defendant to defend herself, to prove to the Canadian court that the American accusation may not be accurate. So imagine that this case is happening in Hong Kong, that there's an attempt by the Chinese authorities to extradite an American, he actually - he or she actually would not have those rights that this person is currently enjoying in Canada.

INSKEEP: Would this bill pass if it were before the legislature?

MOK: Well, it would because, in Hong Kong, we have a strange situation that people like myself from the pro-democracy camp - we are the minority in the legislature because of the design of the system. We are always in the minority. So that's why people want universal suffrage, real democracy in Hong Kong. But we didn't get that. So a very unpopular law. As long as the government wants to push it through, they'll get it.

INSKEEP: I want to ask one other question, and it's about the long term. As you know very well, of course, the reason that Hong Kong has different rights and a different judicial system than the rest of China is because that was agreed to as Britain left Hong Kong in 1997. China agreed to maintain certain rights in Hong Kong for 50 years, until 2047. Do you think in the long term that Hong Kong is going to be able to maintain its freedoms?

MOK: That is actually the biggest concern that we have in Hong Kong among activists and pro-democracy advocates because, for example, in the Basic Law, in the joint declaration between the U.K. and China, we were promised that we are going to have universal suffrage, real democracy. But we have waited for 22 years and still nowhere in sight.

And in the meantime, there are a lot of these issues, including this current extradition amendment bill attempt that would make Hong Kong more like China, and that is our concern. We want to keep Hong Kong a free place, and we want to distinguish ourselves, and we want to make sure this one country, two system really works.

INSKEEP: Charles Mok, who is a legislator in Hong Kong. Thank you so much.

MOK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.