After Leader Shelves Extradition Bill, Protesters Return Angrier To Streets

14 hours ago
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start the program today hearing about the massive protests which engulfed the streets of Hong Kong for the second Sunday in a row. The target of protesters' anger is a bill which would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China. On Saturday, Hong Kong's government backed down and said it is shelving the bill for now. But as we will hear from NPR's Anthony Kuhn, protesters say that isn't enough.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Like last Sunday, many protesters came pushing strollers. Iris Chan came with her family, including her 8-year-old son.

IRIS CHAN: (Foreign language spoken).

KUHN: "I need to let my child know what is happening in Hong Kong right now," she says with tears in her eyes. Then she condemns the police in English for using force against the protesters on Wednesday.

CHAN: All the people know they are wrong. They are hurting the people and hurting us.

KUHN: Nearby, a 68-year-old man holds a sign criticizing chief executive Carrie Lam. He gives only his last name, Yim, because he says he's worried about what the extradition bill could do to freedom of speech.

YIM: (Through interpreter) You say something the government doesn't like, and somebody reports you. And all of a sudden, you disappear. They send you to China, and you can't say no.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting).

KUHN: The protesters roared out calls for the government to withdraw the extradition bill and for Carrie Lam to resign. One of the organizers, the Civil Human Rights Front, put the number of protesters at 2 million. The police tally was much lower. In a written statement, Carrie Lam apologized to the people of Hong Kong. Her apology came a full day after the press conference where she pledged to shelve the bill. So far, Lam's expressions of remorse have failed to calm her critics, either in the street or in the legislature.

ALVIN YEUNG: There's no way this government could fool Hong Kong people.

KUHN: That's opposition lawmaker Alvin Yeung. On Friday, he and other legislators trying to persuade Lam to ditch the bill, but they were turned away. He says his message for Lam was this.

YEUNG: If your decision to retreat and to withdraw this bill is right to the people, then just do it.

KUHN: Yeung argues that Hong Kong's common-law system has enabled its economy to flourish and invest in mainland China, and it should be kept separate, he says, from China's Communist Party-dominated legal system.

YEUNG: By removing the firewall between the Hong Kong system and the mainland system, that is fatal to Hong Kong's reputation, especially as an international financial center.

KUHN: But Beijing has been tightening its grip, making it harder for Hong Kong to fight the extradition Bill. Edmund Cheng, an associate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, argues that the battle over the bill is different from Hong Kong's quest for democracy. Hong Kong has never been able to directly elect its leaders, now or under the British. But, he says, it has had the rule of law and civil liberties such as freedom of speech.

EDMUND CHENG: So people certainly know what they're fighting for and why they need to fight for it. And that is precisely because embedded in the Hong Kong people's culture and history.

KUHN: In other words, it's harder to fight for something you want but you've never experienced than it is to fight for something you've long had and cannot afford to lose.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Hong Kong. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.