The New York Times reports that hundreds of thousands of protesters marched in the streets of Hong Kong this weekend in opposition to an outrageous bill moving through the country’s legislature, which would roll back protections for Chinese nationals living in Hong Kong, and force Hong Kong to extradite enemies of the Chinese government if asked.
Citizens of Hong Kong view the bill as the latest — and most intrusive — attempt from mainland China to erode the civil liberties and personal protections those who make their home in Hong Kong enjoy. Since the island nation was transferred to Chinese control from the British back in the 1990s, those who live there have been given far more leeway in their daily lives than mainland Chinese.
Under the transfer agreement, Hong Kong was supposed to maintain its own political and judicial systems, and for nearly three decades, the system existed side by side with the mainland Chinese system, following some of China’s basic rules, but preserving basic human freedoms, including freedom from Chinese surveillance and the Chinese justice system, which severely punishes anyone they feel is a threat to the government.
The extradition bill, which the Hong Kong legislature will consider Wednesday, paves the way for China to inject itself into Hong Kong’s justice system, and would require that enemies of the Chinese state operating in Hong Kong be arrested and sent to mainland China for adjudication and punishment.
The bill, many of the protesters who spoke to western media outlets say, will eventually allow China to extend its arm into Hong Kong and punish those who speak out against the Chinese government.
“The immediate focus of the protest was a proposal to allow extradition to mainland China, which critics are worried the authorities will use to send dissidents, activists and others in Hong Kong, including foreign visitors, to face trial in mainland courts, which are controlled by the [Chinese communist] party,” the New York Times reports.
“I think this law will take away our freedoms if it is implemented,” one protester told the NYT. “We will not have the right to express ourselves. So we must stand up and express ourselves today.”
“This law is dangerous, and not just for activists,” said another. “We are not activists. Even as regular citizens, we can’t stand to see China eroding away our freedom.”
There are already signs that China is cracking down on freedoms in Hong Kong. Chinese government officials have been reportedly pushing bills in the Hong Kong legislature that would punish “disrespect” for the Chinese national anthem, and would ban publications critical of the Chinese government or communism in general from being sold on the island.
The crackdown is in line with recent developments on China’s mainland, where the Chinese government, lead by Xi Jinping, has been cracking down more frequently on even the meager freedoms most Chinese enjoy and ramping up surveillance of Chinese citizens through social media and technology. The government is also reportedly institutionalizing millions of its own citizens.
Hong Kong’s government isn’t backing down, even though organizers say they are drawing more than a million people into the streets for protests.
“We acknowledge and respect that people have different views on a wide range of issues,” a government statement, released on Saturday read. “The procession today is an example of Hong Kong people exercising their freedom of expression within their rights as enshrined in the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance.”
The fear, the protesters say, is that those rights won’t last for long.