Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Hong Kong yesterday against a law critics fear could let China target political opponents in the territory.
The controversial extradition bill would allow suspected criminals to be sent to mainland China for trial.
The government says the bill has built-in protections and will plug loopholes.
Organisers say there were one million protesters, which would make it the biggest march since the 1997 handover. Police say 240,000 were at their peak.
Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam has pushed for the amendments to be passed before July. Supporters say safeguards are in place to prevent anyone facing religious or political persecution from being extradited to mainland China.
But critics say those in the former British colony would be exposed to China’s deeply flawed justice system, and it would lead to further erosion of the city’s judicial independence.
Protesters, marching in the sweltering heat dressed in white, include a wide range of people – from businesspeople and lawyers to students, pro-democracy figures and religious groups. The march was mainly peaceful though pepper spray was used against some protesters.
“This is the end game for Hong Kong, it is a matter of life or death. That’s why I come,” Rocky Chang, a 59-year-old professor, told Reuters news agency. “This is an evil law.”
“The people’s voices are not being heard,” 18-year-old student Ivan Wong told AFP news agency.
“This bill will not just affect Hong Kong’s reputation as an international finance centre, but also our judicial system. That has an impact on my future.”
It looks like a regular protest in Hong Kong: a peaceful and orderly march. People help each other out. They fan for each other, help push the wheelchairs. Water refill stations have been set up by volunteers, too.
This march is one of the biggest in Hong Kong since the Umbrella Movement in 2014. The city’s pro-democracy movement has been hard hit since then because protesters failed to gain any concessions from the government after they occupied the heart of the city for 79 days.
Many protesters are not optimistic that the government will back down now. After all, the pro-Beijing parties enjoy a majority in the legislature.
The people have spoken, but whether the government listens is another matter. –BBC