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Critics Say Hong Kong's Extradition Bill Targets Democracy Activists


In the streets of Hong Kong yesterday, protesters and police fought violently.


KING: Protesters are outraged about a proposed law that would allow residents of Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China. Now, they say it would allow virtually anyone in Hong Kong to be picked up and detained in China, including political activists.

Lee Cheuk Yan is a pro-democracy activist and former Hong Kong legislator. He currently serves as general secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions. And he's on the line from Hong Kong.

Mr. Lee, thanks for being with us.

LEE CHEUK YAN: Hello. Thank you.

KING: We saw these dramatic pictures yesterday of clashes in the streets between protesters and police. What is it like there today?

LEE: Today is quiet. And it's very sad that, in Hong Kong, that the police are using excessive force against our young people. And I think we have to explain a bit of a background in the way that - we have 1 million people marching on Sunday...


LEE: ...And very peacefully. And - but the government response is nothing. They still want to insist on tabling the bill to the Legislative Council. So what happen is, when they insist on tabling the bill - not withdrawing the bill - the people, of course, are angry. But - the whole demonstration beginning is very peaceful. And everyone is trying to express themself by sort of surrounding the Legislative Council and demanding that the government withdraw the bill.

So peaceful protest, 1 million people demanding for withdraw. You do not withdraw. And the young people - the protesters are coming out again, asking for that again. You do not withdraw, but you send out police with police baton, tear gas, beanbag rounds.

KING: So you are saying, essentially, that the government in Hong Kong is not listening and that's what turned this violent. Let me ask you what you - in specific, in particular, are worried about. You've been a loud critic of the Chinese government. You're afraid this law would allow you to be targeted. What is your fear, exactly? What could happen?

LEE: What - yeah. The fear is that, you know, if you - there's a - in the extradition bill, there's a clause called aiding and abetting. So if you do something in Hong Kong, not necessarily in China - political activist, civil society activist - you do something supporting the Chinese dissident or Chinese protests or any pro-democracy calling in China - you know, some of the Chinese pro-democracy activists may be imprisoned or may be charged for some crime.

And in China, it's very easy to try a crime, very easy that they try to use torture to force people to televise their confession with that. You know - and then they're linked up to Hong Kong. Then it's very easy for the Chinese government to demand that the Hong Kong government turn in the Hong Kong activist back to - go back to China to be trial. And everyone know that once you are - once you go in China, then there's no fair trial.

KING: OK. So some real concerns here. Let me ask you about people whom you've been hearing from. You represent thousands of Hong Kong workers in your current job. What are you hearing from the local business sector?

LEE: Oh, so the business sector are very worried and not just the political - actually, the business sector had lots of experience in China when they are being charged with a criminal offense. And then they have to sell - you know, bribe their way out or buy their way out.

And so once this happen - you know, it's easy that the businessman in the past coming back to Hong Kong, oh, I'm safe. This is safe haven. But then - now, with this law, the businessman can be extradited to China for criminal charges. And one of the crime that are being targeted - and very clearly mentioned by the Public Security of China - is that - bribery.

So if you do something - you bribe someone in China - which, actually, is the way they do business in China and a normal practice - and then something happen to that particular Chinese bureaucrat or a Communist Party member, then you're the one that bribed them. So you should be extradited to China for the crime. And therefore, the businessman in Hong Kong is very much worried - and also, a foreign investor, how about.

KING: Yeah. Hong Kong is a hub for many American businesses who operate in China. I imagine they share some of those fears as well. Let me ask you about the prospects here. The legislature in Hong Kong is controlled by a pro-Beijing majority. The city's chief executive owes her position to authorities on the Chinese mainland. Do you think this bill is pretty much guaranteed to pass? Or do you think, if protests continue, they could stop it?

LEE: We are trying to use the power of the people to tell the government to stop and also put pressure on the pro-Beijing legislature to say no to the bill. But, of course, you know, the Legislative Council - we are the minority. And the pro-Beijing legislators are the majority, not because they have the support of people, but because of the election system that we have, which is very unfair. And therefore, you know, with this Legislative Council, we cannot resolve anything.

You know, people have go to the street to protest in order to demand for the government to withdraw the bill, and that is what is exactly happened in Hong Kong. And we will continue our protest. We will have a big march again this Sunday and next Monday.

KING: OK. So some news there. A big march again in Hong Kong this Sunday and then again on Monday. Lee Cheuk Yan is a pro-democracy activist and a former Hong Kong legislator.

Sir, thank you.

LEE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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