Workers in Hong Kong fight on to defy “Extradition to China”
The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions are at the forefront in supporting the massive social movement against the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill (hereafter: extradition bill). The controversial bill was proposed by the Hong Kong government in February 2019 to establish a mechanism for transfers of fugitives for Mainland China, Macau, and Taiwan. The introduction of the bill caused widespread criticism domestically and abroad fearing that the city would open itself up to the long arm of mainland Chinese law and that people from Hong Kong fall victim to a different legal system, which is notorious for its disregard in human rights, independent judiciary, and fair public trial.
For the HKCTU, the bill is deemed to be a further erosion of the “one country, two systems” and the highly independent legal system in Hong Kong. The bill will subject Hong Kong residents to de facto jurisdiction of courts controlled by the Communist Party of China. According to the figures released by the Statistics Department in 2011, about 170,000 Hong Kong residents worked in Mainland China frequently. Due to the judicial and cultural differences between Hong Kong and China, as well as various “distinctive national circumstances” in China, many Hong Kong workers might have reluctantly or unknowingly violated laws while carrying business duties in China. For instance, as bribery is a norm to get apparently everything done in Mainland China, many workers were ordered by their employers to offer bribes to government officials for various approvals or custom clearances. Meanwhile, the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance in the proposed bill will also put civil society organizations and activists under genuine threats of political prosecution and submission by the Chinese Government, especially for those who are supporting rights defending movement in China.
Since the bill was first proposed by the Hong Kong Government in February 2019, the HKCTU has been at the forefront in opposition. HKCTU mobilized its members to participate in various rallies such as the ones held on 9 June and 16 June, which were attended by 1 million and 2 million people respectively. On 12 June, the day of the planned resumption of the second reading of the bill, the HKCTU appealed to workers to join the protest, where hundreds of businesses closed and many workers took leave for the day. However, the protest resulted in violent clashes between the protestors and the police. Thousands of tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds were shot at the protestors and the excessive force used by the police severely strained the relationship between the police and the general public. Until early September, more than 1,100 protestors were arrested by the police.
Under immense public pressure, the Hong Kong Government suspended the bill on 15 June but refused to withdraw it. On 9 July, Chief Executive Carrie Lam pronounced the extradition bill “dead”, using an ambiguous Cantonese phrase (壽終正寢) that may be translated as “dying a peaceful death.” Lam gave no assurances, however, that the bill would be completely withdrawn, or that any of the other aforementioned demands of protestors would be addressed.
As of today, three calls for workers strike have been made by the general public since the broke out of the movement, including the general strike on 5 August, which saw an estimated 350,000 workers laid down their jobs in support. On the day, over 250 flights, mostly Hong Kong carriers, were cancelled and the subway services suspended. The strike was the largest political strike in decades. However, workers were brutally dealt with in the aftermath of the strike, especially in the civil aviation industry. On 9 August, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) issued a three points directive that barred crew members who “take part in and/or support illegal protests, violent actions and/or overly radical behaviour” to operate in Chinese airspace, resulting in the dismissal of some 30 civil aviation employees, including the current chairperson of Hong Kong Dragon Airlines Flight Attendants Association, which put workers’ rights to freedom of expression and assembly under serious threat. On 28 August, the HKCTU staged a protest against the political persecution of workers, the assembly was joined by some 2,000 participants
Under the call of the general public, the HKCTU support the workers strike on 2 and 3 September. Despite the on-going political persecution of workers in recent days, over 40,000 workers attend the strike rally co-organized by the HKCTU on both days. Subsequently, Chief Executive, Mrs. Carrie Lam, announced the withdrawal of the bill on 4 September. However, it is expected after past months of protests and all the social turmoil that was brought about because of the bill, such belated withdrawal will not quell the social unrest any time soon. In fact, the HKCTU would like to reiterate that the five major demands put forward by the public, namely (a) the complete withdrawal of the bill, (b) to establish an independent investigation commission to investigate police brutality, (c) to release all arrested protestors, (d) to revoke the characterization of “rioting” of the 12 June demonstration, and (e) to implement universal suffrage, are indispensable as such demands have become the consensus of Hong Kong people. In fact, it is obvious that the institutional root of the problem is the undemocratic political system. The 8.31 framework handed down by the National People’s Congress deprives Hong Kong people’s right to universal suffrage. As the Chief Executive is now refusing to bring order out of chaos by correcting the political flaws, it is difficult for Hong Kong to get out of the current political predicament.
Thus, the HKCTU will continue to stand with Hong Kong people and fight on until the five demands are properly addressed. If the Chief Executive continues to ignore our demands, our struggle will not stop.