HONGKONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong legislators clashed on Tuesday over a proposed extradition law that would allow people to be sent to China for trial, after ugly brawls in the legislature over the weekend.
The bill is the latest lightning rod for many worried about Beijing overreach in the former British colony that was promised a high degree of autonomy under a “one country, two systems” formula when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
More than 130,000 people marched against the proposed legislation several weeks ago in one of the biggest protests since the Umbrella pro-democracy movement in 2014.
Following the skirmishes on Saturday that saw one lawmaker taken to hospital, pro-democracy lawmakers again tried to hold a committee meeting to discuss the extradition bill. But a scrum ensued as democrats scrambled to block their rivals from holding a meeting of their own.
“Scrap the evil law,” some democrats shouted through loud-hailers as security guards fought to keep the two sides apart.
The pro-Beijing lawmakers left the chamber, saying rational debate was impossible. They returned a little later but were forced to beat a retreat a second time.
The democrats say their rivals breached procedural rules in forming their own committee and in trying to elect their own chairman to usher through the bill. Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, has said she wants the bill passed before the summer.
It needs to be voted upon by the full legislature, that is now controlled by pro-Beijing and pro-establishment lawmakers.
The proposed changes have sparked an unusually broad chorus of concern from international business to lawyers and rights groups and even some pro-establishment figures.
Under the changes, Hong Kong’s leader would have the right to order case-by-case extraditions of wanted offenders to mainland China, Macau and Taiwan, as well as other countries not covered by Hong Kong’s existing extradition treaties.
Authorities say such orders need to be approved by the city’s independent judiciary as a safeguard, but critics say judges will have difficulty validating evidence presented by mainland authorities against potential fugitives.
The president of the legislature, Andrew Leung, urged both sides to resolve the standoff through talks.
(Reporting by James Pomfret and Jessie Pang; Editing by Nick Macfie)