Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

What is happening in Hong Kong and what are the protests about?

  • Video report by ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward

Hong Kong is in the grip of a political crisis after the government was forced to halt an extradition bill which prompted the hundreds of thousands of protesters to take to the streets.

Police and opponents to the bill have violently clashed in recent days as Hongkongers demanded the country's government drop the legislation.

Should it be passed, it would mean criminal suspects could be extradited to mainland China to face trial.

For many, that raises concerns. China's poor human rights record and lack of a proper legal system means it could be a back door for Beijing to target its opponents in the territory. The bill is seen as the tightening of Beijing's control over Hong Kong well before planned handover period between British rule to Chinese rule ends.

On Saturday, the Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam folded to pressure and stated publicly the plans would be put on hold - for now at least. But protesters remain out in force

Here is everything you need to know about the political crisis.

What has Hong Kong's government proposed introducing?

Law makers had planned to introduce a controversial extradition law, which would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China, Taiwan and Macau from Hong Kong.

Hong Kong currently limits extraditions to jurisdictions with which it has existing agreements and to others on an individual basis.

But the proposed bill could allow the territory to transfer people to countries with which it has no formal extradition agreements.

China has been excluded from those agreements because of concerns over its judicial independence and human rights record.

Officials have said suspects accused of political and religious crimes will not be extradited, but only people accused of serious or criminal charges.

Police have fired tear gas and high-pressure hoses at protesters. Credit: AP
A protester reacts as she is tackled by a riot police officer near the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. Credit: AP

Why is the proposed legislation controversial?

Critics believe the extradition bill would put Hong Kong residents at risk of being entrapped in China's judicial system, in which opponents of Communist Party rule have been charged with economic crimes or ill-defined national security offences, and would not be guaranteed free trials.

Speaking to the Hong Kong Free Press, demonstrator and retired civil servant HK Lau said the bill would mean the end of the 'One Country, Two systems' system in which the city has been governed since 1997.

Those opposed to the bill believe political activists will be targeted and not just suspected criminals.

Under its 'one country, two systems' framework, Hong Kong was supposed to be guaranteed the right to retain its own social, legal and political systems for 50 years following its handover from British rule in 1997.

However, China's ruling Communist Party has been seen as increasingly reneging on that agreement by forcing through unpopular legal changes.

The legislation has become a lightning rod for concerns about Beijing's increasing control over the semi-autonomous territory.

Violent clashes between police and protesters culminated on Wednesday. Credit: AP

What has the reaction been?

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets of Hong Kong in protest against the proposed bill.

Violent scenes erupted on Wednesday, as police clashed with protesters. Authorities used pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds, who had gathered around government buildings.

Organisers said a million people marched on Sunday, in opposition to the change in legislation.

The mass demonstration was among the largest in Hong Kong's history, as tensions swell in the semi-autonomous city.

Senior Hong Kong judges and lawyers have expressed their concern against the policy, as many believe it could expose Hong Kong to China's mainland legal system, which sees dissidents prosecuted.

The protests have prompted Hong Kong's biggest political crisis since pro-democracy demonstrations closed down parts of the city centre for more than three months in 2014.

One protester, who gave only his first name Marco, said: "We want the government to just set the legislation aside and not bring it back."

Where are we at now?

Demonstrations led the government to delay a proposed debate on the legislation.

Hong Kong's Legislative Council had been due to discuss the bill on Wednesday, but this was "changed to a later time."

A vote on the bill is due to take place on June 20, but protests are likely to continue in the meantime.

Umbrellas are used to shield protesters from police firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Credit: AP

Who is Hong Kong's chief executive backing the law?

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive, and her officials have defended the bill, which is supported by mainland China.

She was visibly emotional as she talked about the violent scenes which erupted on Wednesday on the streets of Hong Kong.

"My love for this place has led me to make a number of sacrifices," she said.

The chief executive rejected suggestions she had "sold out" her city.

She said the new law is needed to prosecute a Hong Kong man who is wanted in Taiwan for the suspected murder of his girlfriend.

The boyfriend confessed to the murder when he returned to Hong Kong and is in jail on money laundering charges.

But Taiwan authorities have refused to take back the murder suspect if the bill is passed.

Hong Kong's chief executive said she will not back down over the controversial extradition law. Credit: AP

Why are people using umbrellas at the protests?

Protesters have been pictured using umbrellas to protect themselves from tear gas and high-pressure hoses, but they are also a symbol of the 2014 demonstrations.

The Umbrella Movement, also known as Occupy Movement began in 2014.

The occupation was sparked by the decision of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress to prescribe a screening of candidates for the election of Hong Kong's chief executive.

Protesters wanted the right to nominate and directly elect the head of the Hong Kong government.

The umbrella became the symbol of the 2014 protests and they are being used again. Credit: AP