HONG KONG (AP) — Protesters opposed to legislation they fear would reduce Hong Kong’s judicial independence rallied outside the Justice Department on Thursday, as the territory’s leader remained out of public view for a second week.
A few hundred people staged a sit-in on the street in front of the Justice Department, demanding that Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah withdraw the now-suspended bills and drop charges against protesters arrested after a June 12 demonstration that turned violent.
The action was the latest in a series of protests this month targeting police headquarters and government offices.
“Withdraw the evil bill, release the protesters, there were no riots, only a tyrannical government,” protest leader Joshua Wong told the crowd.
Police briefly attempted to push the crowd back onto the sidewalk, but eventually relented and permitted them to occupy the road. Some protesters took it upon themselves to direct traffic around the gathering.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam hasn’t been seen in public since issuing a televised apology nearly two weeks ago for mishandling the extradition legislation. Lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki of the opposition Civic Party suggested she request a long-term leave of absence.
“To refuse to appear, to refuse to acknowledge a request and to refuse to make a decision is entirely irresponsible,” Kwok was quoted as saying by Radio Television Hong Kong.
“It will only hurt Hong Kong more,” he said of Lam’s absence.
Lam’s push to pass the extradition bills prompted hundreds of thousands of people to fill Hong Kong’s streets in protest marches earlier this month.
The proposed changes would have allowed suspects to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China for trial. Many fear the proposals would erode Hong Kong’s judicial independence and the civil liberties the city was guaranteed after its handover from British rule in 1997.
Several thousand people joined a rally Wednesday night that capped a daylong appeal to world leaders to take up the issue at this week’s G-20 summit, which brings together the heads of China, the United States and others.
Beijing has strongly opposed any discussion of the issue at the summit, which starts Friday in Japan, saying Hong Kong matters are an internal Chinese affair.
In self-governing Taiwan, which China claims as its territory, several dozen Hong Kong students and human rights activists protested outside Hong Kong’s de facto consulate in Taipei, chanting “no extradition to China.”
“China has said it will not allow the G-20 nations to discuss the Hong Kong issue at their summit, but we have to urge everyone to pay attention to this serious issue,” Taiwan human rights activist Chiu E-ling said.
“People around the world could be affected if the law passes. We call on leaders at the G-20 summit to actively express their opposition to Hong Kong’s amendment of the extradition bills,” Chiu said.
Lam said the legislation was needed to close a legal loophole that prevented the extradition of a murder suspect to Taiwan.
However, Taiwan’s government has said it won’t negotiate with Hong Kong if it insists on treating Taiwan as a part of China. Beijing has proposed governing Taiwan under the same “one country, two systems” formula in place in Hong Kong, something thoroughly rejected by the island’s residents, who overwhelmingly favor maintaining their independent status.
China’s political prosecutions in Communist Party-controlled courts sparked concern on the island when a Taiwanese human rights activist Lee Ming-che was sentenced to five years in prison in China in November 2017 on charges of subverting state power.
Lee was found guilty for holding online political lectures and helping the families of jailed dissidents in China. He disappeared into the custody of the security services shortly after entering China in March 2017.
Lam’s government has suspended debate on the extradition legislation indefinitely, making it unlikely to pass during her term, but protesters are demanding it be officially withdrawn.
They also are seeking an independent inquiry into the police response to a June 12 demonstration, when officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowd, and dozens were injured on both sides.
Following Wednesday night’s rally, a large group of protesters besieged police headquarters for the second time in less than a week. They spray-painted slogans on the walls, threw eggs at the building and shouted insults at the police until well after midnight.
Police waited them out before clearing out a few dozen remaining protesters about 3 a.m.
Associated Press video journalists Raf Wober and Alice Fung in Hong Kong and Johnson Lai in Taipei, Taiwan contributed to this report.