Hong Kong’s Lam declares formal withdrawal of extradition bill

The formal withdrawal of the controversial bill meets one of the main demands of pro-democracy protesters.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam arrives for a news conference in Hong Kong on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Carrie Lam made the announcement in a pre-recorded video message [Anthony Wallace/AFP]

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has announced that the controversial extradition bill that sparked months of anti-government protests will be withdrawn.

The Beijing-backed leader made the announcement in a pre-recorded televised statement on Wednesday.

The scrapping of the bill, which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, was one of the main demands of the pro-democracy movement in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

“The government will formally withdraw the bill in order to fully allay public concerns,” Lam said in the video statement released via her office.

The demonstrations began as opposition to efforts by Lam’s government to introduce the extradition legislation, which opponents saw as another erosion of the liberties enjoyed in the former British colony compared with in mainland China.

After millions of people took to the streets, Lam declared the bill was “dead” but angered protesters by repeatedly refusing to formally withdraw it.

As protests continued, the movement evolved into a much broader campaign to include demands for an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality against the protesters, and an amnesty for those arrested.

Another demand was for people in Hong Kong to be able to directly elect their leaders – a major red line for Beijing.

In her remarks, however, Lam said the government would not accept other demands, including the independent inquiry on alleged police brutality. She named, however, two new members to a police watchdog agency investigating the matter.

Hong Kong’s Lam dismisses leaked voice recording (2:42)

Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown, reporting from Hong Kong, said the formal withdrawal of the bill could be a “breakthrough” in the crisis, but whether it was going to be enough to defuse the situation remained unknown. 

“This is something that should have happened months ago,” Brown said.

“What has happened I think is that the leadership in Beijing has told her [Lam] … withdraw this controversial bill because we need to buy ourselves some peace and quiet in the weeks leading up to the October 1 National Day celebrations,” he added. 

“I think that has almost certainly something to do with the announcement that Carrie Lam is due to make.”

Bonnie Leung, a civil rights activist and organiser of protests against the bill, said Lam’s move “is not sufficient”.

“If it really is withdrawn, protesters can celebrate for just a bit but not long,” she told Al Jazeera.

“This campaign is already beyond the extradition bill – we see police brutality every single day and these police officers who obviously broke the law and were caught on camera have no legal consequences at all, they are not facing any trial, so it is important for Hong Kong people to have an independent inquiry to investigate everything.”

Earlier this week, Reuters News Agency reported that Lam told a closed-door meeting last week she had caused “unforgivable havoc” by igniting the political crisis engulfing the city and would quit if she had a choice.

“If I have a choice,” she said, according to an audio recording obtained by Reuters. “The first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology.”

Hong Kong protesters tear-gassed after clashes with police (5:55)

Commenting on Lam’s move, Adam Ni, China researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney, said the announcement comes “too little too late” for Hong Kong. 

“It will have minimal effects on public sentiments and how they view her government and her political masters in Beijing,” Ni said.

Since early June, he said, “support and trust in her [Lam’s] government and in the Hong Kong police have been eroding,” which has “damaged her credibility beyond repair”.

While the formal withdrawal of the contentious bill is a positive step, Ni noted this will not be enough to quell the protesters’ anger as demands have expanded over the last 13 weeks. 

“She will have to take further steps,” he said. “If she does not take further steps, then we can expect the protests to continue.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies