Hong Kong businesses pledge closures as extradition anger builds

Today, lawmakers will begin the next debate on the bill in the city’s Parliament, which is dominated by Beijing loyalists


HONG KONG • Scores of Hong Kong businesses have vowed to shut down for a day as anger builds over the government’s push to allow extraditions to China, while opponents yesterday announced plans for fresh protests and strikes.

The financial hub was rocked by a huge rally over the weekend — the largest since the city’s 1997 return to China — as vast crowds called on the city’s leaders to scrap the Beijing backed plan.

Many are fearful the proposed law will tangle people up in the mainland’s opaque courts and hammer Hong Kong’s reputation as an international business hub.

Organisers of the march said more than a million hit the streets on Sunday.

But the record crowds have failed to sway Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who has rejected calls to withdraw or delay the bill and warned opponents against committing “radical acts”.

Today, lawmakers will begin the next debate on the bill in the city’s Parliament, which is dominated by Beijing loyalists. Officials said a final vote is not expected until at least June 20.

Protest groups have vowed to stage a fresh rally outside Parliament today — although it was not yet clear whether police would allow a demonstration to take place.

Organisers have billed the gathering as a “picnic” in a park next to the building, but cordons had been thrown up around that park yesterday with the Parliament was under tight security.

A separate online petition calling on protesters to gather yesterday evening and camp overnight outside Parliament may prove more controversial — in the early hours of Monday, police fought running battles with small groups of hardline protesters who had made similar plans to spend the night.

Businesses Shuttering
Ahead of today’s debate, business owners took to social media using a hashtag that translates as “#612strike” — the date of the proposed action — to announce solidarity closures.

A large chunk are mom-and-pop style stores and small businesses that are a key part of the city’s economy, but which often eschew the city’s raucous street politics.

By yesterday morning, more than 100 businesses had declared plans to strike, ranging from coffee shops and restaurants to camera stores, toy shops, nail salons, yoga studios and even an adult entertainment store.

“Hong Kong was built by our various generations with hard work,” wrote Meet Yoga studio on its Instagram account. “A Hong Kong without freedom — how about we just wipe it off the map entirely and call it China?”

The city’s major student unions said they would boycott classes to attend the rallies, while a string of other prominent unions in the transport and social work and teaching sectors either followed suit or encouraged members to attend.

Radical Acts
Yesterday, Lam warned against strikes, a protest method that is not readily embraced in the business centric city.

“I urge schools, parents, groups, corporations and unions to carefully consider, if they call for these radical acts, what good would it do for Hong Kong society and our youth,” RTHK quoted her as saying.

The proposed law would allow extraditions to any jurisdiction with which it does not already have a treaty — including mainland China.

Hong Kong’s leaders said it is needed to plug loopholes and to stop the city from being a sanctuary for fugitives and that safeguards are in place to ensure political critics of Beijing will not be targeted.

Many Hong Kongers have little faith in the government’s assurances, after years of heightened fears that a resurgent Beijing is trying to quash the city’s unique freedom and culture.

Massive pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014 failed to win any concessions, while protest leaders have been imprisoned or banned from politics.

Yesterday, New Zealand’s top court stopped a murder suspect from being extradited to Shanghai in a landmark ruling that gave a scathing assessment of China’s courts.

The Court of Appeal noted a culture of torture, forced confessions and months-long interrogations without lawyers in China’s judical system, while defence counsels were often persecuted.

Opposition to extradition unites a wide cross-section of Hong Kong, including lawyers and legal bodies, business figures and chambers of commerce, journalists, activists and religious leaders. The pastor of a usually pro-government mega-church issued a statement saying he could not support the bill, while the Catholic diocese urged Lam — a devout Catholic — to delay the bill.

Western governments have also voiced alarm. The US this week warned the bill would put people at risk of “China’s capricious judicial system”.

China fired back yesterday, with a Foreign Ministry official calling the comments “irresponsible and erroneous”, adding that Beijing “resolutely opposes interference in Hong Kong affairs”. — AFP