Hong Kong’s legislative assembly descended into chaos yesterday as lawmakers for and against amendments to the territory’s extradition law clashed over access to the chamber.
At least one lawmaker was taken from the chamber on a gurney after apparently fainting during the morning melee, in which legislators pushed and shoved each other on the floor, amid seats and tables and in an adjoining hallway.
The amendments have been widely criticized as eroding the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s judicial independence by making it easier to send criminal suspects to mainland China, where they could face vague national security charges and unfair trials.
Under the “one country, two systems” framework, Hong Kong was guaranteed the right to retain its own social, legal and political systems for 50 years following its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
However, the Chinese Communist Party has been seen as increasingly reneging on that agreement by forcing through unpopular legal changes.
Legislators in the pro-Beijing camp attempted to seat Abraham Razack (石禮謙), also known as Abraham Shek, who had been named earlier in the week through another committee and a contested interpretation of council rules to replace pro-democrat James To (涂謹申) as head of the Bills Committee.
To had stalled passage of the legislation over two sessions and Razack was seen as the best chance to push it through before the July recess.
However, pro-democracy legislators continued to claim that To was the legitimate chief of the committee guiding discussion of the proposed new law.
They and their opponents had scheduled rival meetings on the same topic in the same Legislative Council meeting room yesterday, starting just 30 minutes apart.
The rival committees both claimed to be in charge of the same process of scrutinizing the new law before deciding on whether to vote on it.
At one point, Wu Chi-wai (胡志偉), the Democratic Party chairman who tried to stop Shek from presiding over the meeting, shouted at him, saying: “Don’t be a sinner for a thousand years! Don’t sell out Hong Kong.”
The legislator removed by paramedics was identified as Gary Fan Kwok-wai (範國威) of the Neo Democrats.
The amendments expand the scope for the transfer of criminal suspects to China and remove the legislature’s right to scrutinize individual extradition decisions filed by Hong Kong’s chief executive.
They could also open the way for further measures to erode Hong Kong’s civil liberties, including the passage of anti-subversion legislation that has been strongly opposed by many.
Yesterday’s legislative scuffle came weeks after a Hong Kong court handed down prison sentences of up to 16 months to eight leaders of massive 2014 pro-democracy protests on public nuisance charges.
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