The demonstration was scheduled to start at 3:00 pm local time (11:00 am local time). Three hours later, there were still hundreds of people at the starting point waiting for their turn to start marching. The streets of Hong Kong had become a pure river of people dressed in mostly white, chosen as a symbol of light and justice. The queues to take any of the subway trains to get there exceeded half an hour. The police had to open initially closed accesses to let the crowd pass. The agglomerations remembered, and surpassed, the protests of five years ago, when half a million people sat on the street in the center of the city to demand more democracy. This time, with a widespread feeling of "now or never," citizens were protesting against the extradition bill that, for the first time, will allow the former British colony to deliver fugitives to the Chinese judicial system. An intolerable violation, in their eyes, of their system of freedoms.
A recount from the Hong Kong University for Science and Technology, according to the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post, showed a preliminary tally of almost 200,000 people. Sources close to the organization, also quoted by this newspaper, said that the participants could exceed half a million people.
Under a heat of justice – temperatures were around 32 degrees Celsius, with a humidity of 80% – many of the protesters carried red banners with black signs, in Mandarin, Cantonese and English, which read the motto of the protest : Fan song zhong, Faan sung jung, No to extradition to China (No to extradition to China). The bill, which in principle will be voted on Wednesday in the autonomous Legislature, has touched like few things the sensitive fiber of the citizenship: the fear that the inexorable conversion of Hong Kong in a Chinese city more will take ahead the prized judicial independence and the rest of the guarantees and freedoms that Beijing promised to maintain for 50 years after the British return of the colony in 1997.
If the sit-ins of five years ago visibly divided the city – roughly, young pro-democracy against greater pro-China – on this occasion the proposal has shaken everyone equally. Students, pro-democracy legislators, lawyers, journalists or businessmen have been debating for weeks in their public and private conversations about the reviled proposal.
"I am a businessman and I had never been interested in politics before, but in recent years Hong Kong is deteriorating," said businessman Ben Liang, who emigrated from mainland China to Hong Kong twenty years ago and was involved in the concentration with his two daughters, 23 and 5 years old. "I know the Chinese system well, because I've been a part of it. I hope Hong Kong can still defend what matters to you. "
It does not matter, in the eyes of those who protest, that the bill has already been softened twice, to specify that only those accused will be handed over for crimes that carry penalties.
over seven years. Something of principle is at stake. Something that affects the very soul of the city. And deep mistrust of the judicial system on the other side of the border does not help. A distrust that has been reinforced this week with the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the bloody dissolution of the Tiananmen demonstrations.
"It is a proposal, or a series of proposals, that strike a tremendous blow … to the Rule of Law, to the stability and security of Hong Kong, to the position of Hong Kong as a great international financial center," declared the last Thursday. British governor of the territory, Chris Patten.
The defenders of the measure claim that before the independent chief of staff, Carrie Lam, approves any extradition order, a trial will have to be held and an independent court will have to approve it. No suspect will be handed over to face religious persecution, torture or the death penalty.
Its detractors underline, on the other hand, the lack of transparency and independence of the Chinese judicial system. Chinese laws allow a detainee to remain unaccounted for, isolated and without access to a lawyer for six months. Human rights organizations also denounce arbitrary arrests and forced confessions.
"Under current legislation, the Hong Kong government can only extradite suspects to countries with which it maintains extradition agreements, or decide on a case-by-case basis on requests from other countries. Changes to these provisions should be ordered by the head of the autonomous executive, who is handpicked by the Chinese government, "says the human rights organization Human Rights Watch.
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