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Massive Hong Kong Protests Demand Withdrawal of Extradition Bill, Leader’s Resignation

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As many as 2 million protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong Sunday demanding the withdrawal of a bill that would allow the extradition of Hong Kong residents to mainland China. Protesters also called for the resignation of Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, and other top officials who pushed for the extradition bill. Lam has apologized for her handling of the legislation and indefinitely delayed a vote on the bill; however, the bill has not been fully withdrawn. Critics of the extradition bill say it would infringe on Hong Kong’s independence and the legal and human rights of Hong Kong residents and visitors. Just a few days ago, police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray at tens of thousands of demonstrators. We speak with Nathan Law, a pro-democracy activist who helped lead the Umbrella Movement, and Minky Worden, director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Hong Kong, where as many as 2 million people took to the streets Sunday calling for the withdrawal of a bill to allow the extradition of Hong Kong residents to mainland China. Protesters also called for the resignation of Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, and other top officials who pushed for the extradition bill. Facing mounting protests, Lam has apologized for her handling of the legislation and has indefinitely delayed a vote on the bill, but the bill has not been fully withdrawn. Sunday’s protest came days after riot police fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray at tens of thousands of demonstrators.

The recent protests are the largest Hong Kong has seen since before Britain’s handover of Hong Kong in China in 1997. Since then, Hong Kong has operated under a different legal and political system as mainland China, a setup known as “one country, two systems.” Critics of the extradition bill say it would infringe on Hong Kong’s independence and the legal and human rights of Hong Kong residents, as well as the people visiting Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, one of the most prominent pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, 22-year-old Joshua Wong, was released after a month behind bars. In 2014, he helped lead the Umbrella Movement, which organized protests in Hong Kong. Wong vowed today to join the protest movement.

JOSHUA WONG: Hong Kong people will not keep silent under the suppression of President Xi and the Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Carrie Lam must step down; otherwise, I believe in next few weeks, before the 22 anniversary of Hong Kong transfer of sovereignty, more and more Hong Kong people, not only 1 million or 2 million people, will come and join our fight, until the day we get back our basic human rights and freedom.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two guests. In Hong Kong, Nathan Law is with us, pro-democracy activist who also helped lead the Umbrella Movement. He and Joshua Wong have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for their activism. He was with Joshua just after his release today. And here in New York, Minky Worden, director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch. Worden lived and worked in Hong Kong in the 1990s.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Nathan, let’s begin with you. Can you just describe what took place this weekend, what your demands are and whether you feel they have been met?

NATHAN LAW: Well, I think after the 2 million people marching down last Sunday, Carrie Lam indeed issued an apology, but it is definitely not enough. Our demand is very clear and sound. She has to retreat the proposal. She has to investigate the police brutality. And she has to step down. So, I think if these demands are not met in the future, then there will be more and more protests and rallies.

AMY GOODMAN: Nathan, can you explain what the law is and why protesters will not accept it?

NATHAN LAW: Well, Hong Kong’s “one country, two system” with China, one of the most important features, is that we have a separated legal system. In Hong Kong, we have independent judges, fair trial and also rule of law. These are not found in China. And if this law is passed, then it allows China to extradite people in Hong Kong with fabricated cases, and they have to be extradited back to China to face unfair trial. So it imposes dangers to all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the police response to these massive protests? Protesters are putting the numbers at somewhere this weekend around 2 million people in the streets of Hong Kong.

NATHAN LAW: Well, the most brutal repression to the protesters happened on last Wednesday, when we have gathering outside the legislative complex, where the general meeting of our lawmaking body take place. And the police tried to disperse people with tear gas and rubber bullets. And these are unprecedented forces and definitely unproportional. We could see that police there were out of control. They were beating people who were lying down on the ground without any resistance. They were firing their gunfire to the heads of the protesters. These are violating every ordinance or every rule that they have to obey in order to protect the safety of the citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam addressed the people of Hong Kong. This is what she said.

CARRIE LAM: I feel deep sorrow and regret that the deficiencies in our work and various other factors have stirred up substantial controversies and disputes in society following the relatively calm periods of the past two years, disappointing many people. We will adopt the most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements, so that we can continue to connect with the people of Hong Kong.

AMY GOODMAN: Nathan Law, your response to the chief executive of Hong Kong?

NATHAN LAW: Well, I do believe that this press conference, the performance of Carrie Lam, made lots more people coming down to the street. Even though she said she will pause the bill, but she also said that the bill was with good intention, with good purpose; it’s just people don’t listen to her, don’t understand the bill. So, this kind of reframing or rhetoric, rhetoric lies, that Carrie Lam said during the press conference indeed made a lot of people more angry. And she also defended the police brutality, saying that the protest on Wednesday was also a riot, so that it could legitimize the suppression or the police brutality they have been taking. And these things also really upset all the citizens, so that our number of people marching down to the streets increased from a million to 2 million within a week. So, Carrie Lam must be the one who made all this happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about China’s overall role in this? Xi Jinping was in Tajikistan on Saturday celebrating his 66th birthday with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Beijing won’t let Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, step down even if she wants to, some say. Your thoughts on this, Nathan Law, and what this means for the mainland, as well?

NATHAN LAW: Well, for Carrie Lam and for the Beijing government, they always said that it’s not the initiative from Beijing; it’s the initiative from Carrie. And we can—well, as the information I got from different sources, we also know that it was an initiative from Carrie, and she tried to push forward the proposal so that the Beijing’s power in Hong Kong could be more centralized and strengthen its grip to Hong Kong, about money and also arresting political dissidents and so on. But she misjudged how public would react. And the public anger is way more larger—way much larger than she expected. So, I think even though the Beijing government is backing her, but there is possibility that the Beijing government, if they wanted to preserve their reputation or show that they are lenient and they are rational, they may sacrifice Carrie Lam, if needed.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, who was just released from jail today. As he spoke, Nathan, you were standing right there next to him.

JOSHUA WONG: It’s time for us to urge Carrie Lam to withdraw the extradition law proposal, and it’s her responsibility to step down and to face how 2 million people already joined the fight and urge her to bear the political responsibility. In the future, I will join the fight, and I hope more people can join our protest.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you comment on what Joshua Wong’s—his release, just released earlier today, and the significance of this, why he was imprisoned and what it means for the whole movement?

NATHAN LAW: Well, Joshua was locked in jail because of his participation in the Umbrella Movement. So, after almost a month jail sentence, he came out, and he immediately went to the Admiralty and also the protest site to see what’s going on, because in the prison you’ve got very limited resources of information. So, I think he has to like keep up the pace and know more about things in order to make a good judgment on the strategy of the movement. But in the end of the day, he is very concerned. And like, we [inaudible] will continue to fight. And with this participation, our fight will be more stronger and more firm.

AMY GOODMAN: And why is it called the Umbrella Movement? And can you describe your intentions in founding it?

NATHAN LAW: Yeah, the Umbrella Movement happened five years ago. And it is named because people were very peaceful, and when they faced police using the pepper spray, they only blocked it with umbrella. So, you could see a scene of a list or a line of umbrellas facing the police, and the police were spraying pepper spray. So, the name of Umbrella Movement started from this scene, very iconic one.

AMY GOODMAN: And overall, where you think—the G20 is happening later this month. President Trump will be meeting with Xi Jinping. What do you want to see come out of that? And can you comment on the U.S.-China relationship and how it affects what’s happening in Hong Kong?

NATHAN LAW: Well, Secretary Pompeo just said that President Trump will discuss Hong Kong issue with Xi Jinping Monday, meet at G20. So, I think it is a good opportunity for the U.S. to state that they have massive interest in Hong Kong and they share the same liberal and universal values with Hong Kong people, so that we want China to really treasure the demands of Hong Kong people and stop suppressing them. I think it is a very important message, because it is not only about Hong Kong’s interests, but the interests of the whole free world and the interests of America. So, I think if President Trump indeed meets President Xi in G20, it’s not only about economy, it’s not only about trade, but is about something that’s way much more important.

AMY GOODMAN: Nathan Law is a pro-democracy activist who has also helped lead the Umbrella Movement. Both he and Joshua Wong have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for their activism. Nathan, I want you to stay with us, but I also want to bring in Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch. You have been following this movement in detail. You lived in Hong Kong. If you, too, can talk about the significance of a movement that was—some described it as a failed movement, until now?

MINKY WORDEN: Well, first of all, I’d like to say that Joshua Wong getting out of prison today is a very significant moment. He published an article that had echoes of the Letter from the Birmingham Jail. And I think that helps put this movement in the context of protest movements worldwide, but also through history. And the Umbrella Movement, when it happened in 2014, was a landmark movement of especially young people who weren’t even born at the time of the Hong Kong handover standing up and saying, “We understand what makes Hong Kong special. We understand that only in Hong Kong, with our rule of law, press freedom, religious freedom, our ability to protest freely—that we understand these rights and freedoms are very precious, and we’re prepared to stand up and defend them.”

The Umbrella Movement itself, Nathan Law was actually elected to the Legislature in a landslide. He was the youngest legislator, when elected. And yet, within a year, he was thrown out of the Legislature. And that was a series of moves that have been made by the Hong Kong government to assert control of the Legislature—right?—throwing out elected leaders. And I think the—there’s been a question of whether there was a legacy from the Umbrella Movement. And last Sunday, with a million people turning out into the streets peacefully, and yesterday, with as many as 2 million people turning out, I think you can see that the Umbrella Movement has had an enduring legacy that continues to this day.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the extradition law, more about it, what seems to be the latest in a blurring of lines between mainland China and Hong Kong? And how much control, for people to understand, does China exert over Hong Kong, and where you see this all headed?

MINKY WORDEN: Yes. So, the extradition law is the latest in a series of moves from China to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and human rights. And I think if you were to look at all of the things that distinguish Hong Kong from China—religious freedom, a functioning rule of law, a judicial system that is largely independent, a free press is absolutely essential, and the ability to protest—all of these rights and freedoms have been under steady assault from China, but in a way that the international community really wasn’t paying a lot of attention. Certainly, it caused enormous fear and concern in Hong Kong. But in the 22 years since the handover from Britain to China, the defense of human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong has largely been left to Hong Kong people. And every time there has been a crisis like this, they have stood up. What the extradition law does that is so pernicious is that it would actually legalize kidnapping. It would—I think in recent years we’ve seen the abduction of publishers and businessmen. There was a businessman who was abducted from the Four Seasons. So—


MINKY WORDEN: The Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong, yes. A businessman was abducted, and five publishers, and then several of them made forced confessions. So, I think, for Hong Kong people, they see this as a fundamental assault to the values, their core values, where you have the right of due process, for example, in the courts. So, the extradition law itself could legalize kidnapping.

AMY GOODMAN: Why does China—why is China pushing this at this time? And what does this mean for Xi Jinping?

MINKY WORDEN: Well, I don’t know that there’s evidence that this is coming from China. Hong Kong is supposed to be an autonomous system. It has an enormous bureaucracy. There’s a big question of whether this was the Hong Kong leader, Carrie Lam, who was not elected by Hong Kong people, moving a piece of legislation where she could show Beijing how much she was in control. As Nathan Law said, it’s backfired spectacularly.

And I think the important question is: What’s going to happen next? Carrie Lam has said that they will suspend the law but not withdraw it. There are parallels in recent Hong Kong history where the previous chief executive moved a piece of legislation on subversion that would have undermined human rights in Hong Kong. In that situation, half a million people took to the street. The law was withdrawn, and ultimately the chief executive was tossed out of office. So I think there’s a parallel in recent Hong Kong history, but the concern is now Xi Jinping is in China.

AMY GOODMAN: Your final thoughts, Nathan Law?

NATHAN LAW: Well, definitely, this kind of legalizing kidnapping indeed imposes a lot of threat to Hong Kong people, and that is why we have 2 million people marching down to the street on Sunday. And we hope that by continuing our pressure to the government, they could really listen to it, even though they are not democratically elected. But the power of people must be shown, and the power of people must be respected.

AMY GOODMAN: Nathan Law, we want to thank you for being with us, pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong who’s been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. And Minky Worden, director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the story of Laquan McDonald and the Chicago cover-up. Stay with us.

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