What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

If bill allowing extradition to China passes, ‘nobody is safe’ in Hong Kong, says critic

In Hong Kong, crowds are taking to the streets to protest a new law that allows extradition of suspected criminals to China. The city has long valued its independence, and opponents of the policy fear it will enable China to target critics and create a chilling effect on speech. Nick Schifrin talks to Martin Lee, an attorney and the founding chairman of the first pro-democracy party in Hong Kong.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tensions are rising in Hong Kong, as protesters take to the streets, at issue, a new law that allows extradition of suspected criminals to China.

    Nick Schifrin reports on fears that it might lead to silencing critics of Beijing.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In downtown Hong Kong, the protesters, and the umbrellas they hold to symbolize resistance, fill a city street.

    Last month, more than 100,000 demonstrated peacefully. In a city that's long valued independence, they say a new extradition law can be used to shackle them to mainland China.

  • Jayson Shing (through translator):

    Once this law has been passed, it won't matter if you are an average person or a foreigner coming through Hong Kong. There will be a real possibility you will be taken and sent off to the mainland.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    They demonstrated and marched outside the local government headquarters. They describe the law as rendition, allowing China to kidnap and imprison any Hong Kong residents or visitors accused of a significant crime and any Hong Kong leading activists critical of the Chinese government, like Joshua Wong.

  • Joshua Wong:

    Perhaps in the worst scenario, activists might be jailed in mainland China, even they are permanent Hong Kong residents.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the People's Republic of China is fighting back. One week ago, pro-Beijing lawmakers brawled with pro-democracy lawmakers, and 52-year-old Gary Fan ended up on the floor and on a stretcher.

    Other activists were convicted last month of public nuisance charges. Several of them ended up being bussed to jail. The new Hong Kong law could also have implications for the United States. A group that advises Congress on China said the law could — quote — "allow Beijing to pressure the Hong Kong government to extradite U.S. citizens under false pretenses."

    China is urging the United States to stay out of it.

  • Lu Kang (through translator):

    It is wrong to try and interfere in Hong Kong's affairs in any way.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Hong Kong's streets haven't been this full of protesters since 2014. The Umbrella democracy movement started in response to Beijing's decision to vet candidates for Hong Kong's elections. Thousands of demonstrators gathered in the streets, brandishing their namesake umbrellas to protect from pepper spray.

    Those were heady days for the student activists who led the protests.

  • Alex Chow:

    The ongoing occupy movement will for sure generate sufficient pressure in the government.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But many have since given up. On a busy street in Hong Kong, a door that once led to a bookstore of resistance is now covered by a paper sign indicating it's closed.

    Owner Lam Wing-Kee fled to Taiwan, fearing he could not avoid forced extradition.

  • Lam Wing-Kee (through translator):

    It is making Hong Kong into a very dangerous place. Anyone could be extradited. There is no longer any protection, no sense of personal security.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For his part, Joshua Wong is defiant, urging his fellow activists to remember the optimism they felt in 2014.

  • Joshua Wong:

    No matter what's happened, I hope that people will never forget the spirit of Umbrella Movement, and we will continue to fight for free election.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This week, a delegation of pro-democracy leaders visited Washington, D.C. They met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who — quote — "expressed concern" that the proposed law changes — quote — "threaten Hong Kong's rule of law."

    And one of those people who met with Secretary Pompeo is Martin Lee, the founding chairman of the first pro-democracy party in Hong Kong and a leading attorney in the democracy movement.

    Martin Lee, thank you so much. Welcome to the "NewsHour."

  • Martin Lee:

    Thank you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    What is your message this week as you have been meeting with U.S. officials here in Washington?

  • Martin Lee:

    It's an urgent message that, unless the U.S. government comes to our assistance, Hong Kong will be passing a very draconian law which doesn't only affect Hong Kong citizens.

    Things are going terribly wrong, and our legislature is about to ram through a piece of legislation which, in fact, hurts the welfare, the well-being of a lot of your citizens, 85,000 of them, living or working in Hong Kong, because, once the law is passed, any one of them could be transferred back to China for trial on trumped-up charges of rape or corruption or whatever, which they will allege that you have committed many years ago.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And why the United States? Why are you asking for U.S. help specifically?

  • Martin Lee:

    Well, because I believe the U.S. government is the only government which will take the lead.

    I don't think the British government would take the lead. And so Hong Kong, of course, we will continue to fight against this. This is dreadful, because if we cannot even protect the safety of people living in Hong Kong or visiting Hong Kong as a tourist, how can Hong Kong continue to be an international city?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The chief executive of Hong Kong, who has backed these changes to the laws, of course, says that, look, there are loopholes in the law that prevents the extradition of criminals, real criminals, and that this legislation is required.

    What's your response to that?

  • Martin Lee:

    It's not a loophole at all. It's a firewall separating our system from the mainland system.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Mainland China, Hong Kong vs. mainland China, right.

  • Martin Lee:

    Indeed.

    And that is indeed China's own policy regarding Hong Kong. They introduced a policy of one country, two systems. Our system is separate from them.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Let's go through some of the other arguments the chief executive makes.

    She says that she has reduced the number of people who could be dragged into this law. And she's raised the bar, that only people who have committed offenses punishable by three years, rather than one year, as it originally was.

    Does that reassure you at all?

  • Martin Lee:

    She can increase it even to seven years, because, if they concoct a case in mainland China — it could be murder. So, there is no safety at all.

    If we can believe the Chinese system, judicial and legal system, fine. But we don't. That is why, even today, there is no arrangement between Hong Kong and mainland China for transfer of fugitives from justice.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The last argument that the Hong Kong chief executive makes is that this law would only be used to prosecute real criminals and not to prosecute anyone for race, religion, nationality, or, more to the point, political opinion.

    Again, that doesn't reassure you?

  • Martin Lee:

    Of course. If they want you, they will bring you back on a trumped-up charge of murder or rape or corruption.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    We just heard the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Beijing discussing how the U.S. should stay out of this, as he put it.

    By coming here, do you fear that you're allowing him to make that argument, that you are coming here asking for the U.S. and allowing the argument to be made that the U.S. is meddling?

  • Martin Lee:

    Well, in fact, back in 1984, when the British government entered into this joint declaration with the Chinese government, under which Hong Kong, Kowloon, and the new territories were all returned to China, the Chinese government worked very hard to lobby for international support.

    And they lobbied the U.S. government to support that agreement. So, how can they ask you to stop interfering? They asked you to support the one country, two systems, and your government still does support it. So, how can they tell the U.S. government, none of your business?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, what do you want the U.S. to do? What can the U.S. really do against Beijing's push?

  • Martin Lee:

    I would like the U.S. government and other governments and indeed the Hong Kong government to support us, to support Hong Kong people, and withdraw that bill from the legislative council.

    That is the only way. It's a bad law. And if passed, nobody is safe. Hong Kong cannot be a safe harbor again.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Martin Lee, founder of the Democracy Party in Hong Kong, thank you so much.

  • Martin Lee:

    My pleasure.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest