HONG KONG (DW) -- Tens of thousand of Hong Kong residents are participating in a rally on Sunday against a government plan that would allow extraditions to China.
In February, Hong Kong authorities proposed that the city's chief executive, Carrie Lam, should be given powers to send fugitives and suspects to jurisdictions not covered by existing arrangements, including to mainland China and Taiwan. Current arrangements exclude China because of its poor legal and human rights record.
The proposed extradition law is one of the most controversial pieces of legislation in Hong Kong since a 2003 national security bill, which was scrapped by the authorities after at least half a million residents took to the streets to oppose it.
Organizers are expecting a similar turnout in Sunday's rallies, which they believe could force the government to shelve the controversial law.
James To, a veteran Democratic Party lawmaker, told Reuters on Saturday that a big turnout on Sunday could sway Hong Kong's government. "It could really force a severe rethink by the government," he said. "There is everything to play for… People really sense this is a turning point for Hong Kong," To added.
A previous rally in April drew at least 130,000 protesters, according to the Civil Human Rights Front.
Sunday's march will end at the city's Legislative Council, which is to start debating the proposed law on Wednesday.
Growing international opposition
Hong Kong authorities have come under immense pressure from the international community to ditch the extradition bill. Foreign ministers of Germany and Britain have spoken against the bill, while 11 European Union envoys recently met Chief Executive Carrie Lam to formally protest the law.
The International Chamber of Commerce to the EU office in Hong Kong and the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission also voiced serious concerns about the controversial extradition bill.
On Saturday, the US State Department said that it was "closely monitoring" the Hong Kong government's proposed amendments to the law.
"Continued erosion of the 'One country, two systems' framework puts at risk Hong Kong's long-established special status in international affairs," said a spokeswoman for the State Department.
Are the amendments necessary?
Some protesters are even calling for Chief Executive Lam to step down, saying she has "betrayed" the city. But Lam insists that the changes to the extradition law are necessary to close the "loophole" under which the government has been unable to extradite a Hong Kong citizen, Chan Tong-kai, who is accused of killing his girlfriend in Taiwan last year.
Taiwan authorities, however, are against any change to the Hong Kong extradition law. They said Friday that they have no intention of asking Hong Kong to return Chan because they are concerned that Hong Kong's proposed extradition law changes would put its citizens at risk of being taken away by China.
Lee Ming-che, a Taiwanese activist, is currently serving a five-year sentence in China after being convicted by a Chinese court in November 2017 on charges of subverting state powers.
Former legislator Leung Kwok-hung said last month the proposed law would remove Hong Kong's "freedom from fear."
"Hong Kong people and visitors passing by Hong Kong will lose their right not to be extradited into mainland China," Leung said. "They would need to face an unjust legal system on the mainland."
Beijing tightens grip on Hong Kong
Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 after 99 years under British colonial rule. The "one country, two systems" principle underpins the reunification process and allows the territory relative autonomy in the 50-year transition period.
But more than 20 years into the process, critics are concerned Chinese authorities are already tightening their grip on political and social life.
In 2012, a report on freedom of the press in Hong Kong showed it had deteriorated alarmingly, with five journalists detained by police "without concrete evidence."
Chinese authorities have clamped down on pro-democracy demonstrations in recent years. Last September, the government banned the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP). Its leader, Andy Chan, was disqualified from running for elections, after officials insisted that advocating for independence goes against the territory's Basic Law.
人山人海 I’m guessing at least 100,000 Hong Kongers are marching against extradition to a China. It’s showing no sign of stopping and every time more people join from side streets there are huge cheers. #HongKong pic.twitter.com/J3Ka87Ewt1— Erin Hale (@erinhale) 2019年6月9日
Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned against threats to the authority of Beijing. He has vowed to stop separatist movements from violating territorial integrity, saying he "will never allow any person, any group, any political party" to divide the country.