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Extradition Bill Sparks Massive Protests in Hong Kong

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  • Protestors in Hong Kong held a massive demonstration Sunday to oppose a bill that would allow the city to extradite people accused of certain crimes to mainland China.
  • Police say 240,000 people attended, while organizers claim that more than one million turned out.
  • Critics argue that the bill will be used to stifle dissent against the mainland, which has been exerting authority over Hong Kong and meddling in their internal affairs.
  • Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, who proposed the bill has said she will still try to pass it despite the massive backlash.

Protests in Hong Kong

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday to protest a proposed bill that would allow the government to extradite people to mainland China.

According to reports, protestors from all walks of life essentially took over the streets of downtown Hong Kong. The protest stretched for more than a mile and it was so crowded that people were reportedly stuck in the subway stations waiting to join the protests.

The Protestors wore white, symbolizing “light” and “justice.” Some of them carried umbrellas, which were a symbol of the city’s pro-democracy protests in 2014.

Many demonstrators could be seen holding various signs and posters, some of which called for the resignation of Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, who proposed and has pushed for the extradition bill.

The protests were largely peaceful during the day, but a little after midnight, riot police began to clash with protestors in front of Hong Kong’s legislature. Police starting using pepper spray and hitting protestors with batons to get them to free up the area, and eventually, the protestors largely dispersed.

Currently, it is unclear how many people took part in the protests. Police officials have said that 240,000 people were in attendance, while the protest organizers say it was actually more than one million.

If the organizers’ numbers are correct, that would mean almost 1 out of every 7 Hong Kong residents participated. It would also make it the biggest protest in Hong Kong since the British gave China control of the colony in 1997.

History and Context

Hong Kong is an autonomous city-state in southeast China that used to be a British colony, but it was given back to China in 1997 under a policy called “one country, two systems.”

Under that system, Hong Kong was designated as a special administrative region (SAR) and allowed its own constitution which is known as Basic Law.

While Hong Kong technically part of China, it is given such a high degree of autonomy that it basically operates as its own country. The city has entirely separate political and economic systems, as well as a free press and open internet, which makes it very different from mainland China.

For the people of Hong Kong, independence from China is not only a point of pride but also a defining characteristic.

The proposed extradition bill has sparked a huge backlash among the residents of Hong Kong who are worried they could end up in the hands of mainland China’s legal system, where people are frequently prosecuted for political reasons. Residents generally perceive the bill as a threat to their freedom and civil liberties.

What is the Extradition Bill?

The bill would amend Hong Kong’s extradition laws to allow them to detain people suspected of certain crimes and turn them over to countries and territories with which Hong Kong does not have formal extradition agreements. Notably, this would include China.

Lam proposed the bill in March, in order to resolve a case where a man from Hong Kong named Chan Tong-kai was accused of killing his girlfriend while on vacation in Taiwan last year.

Chan is now back in Hong Kong, and even though he is accused of murder charges in Taiwan, he cannot be sent there to stand trial, because Hong Kong and Taiwan do not have a formal extradition agreement.

Lam argued the extradition bill is necessary to prosecute Chan. She also argues that it will help the rule of law in Hong Kong and “plug a loophole” in the city’s legal system.

Reportedly, the extradition bill would apply to 37 crimes and it would only pertain to people accused of crimes that have penalties of seven years or more in prison. Government officials have also said that anyone facing the death penalty would not be extradited.

Officials have also said that extradition cases will need to be approved by independent local judges, then they will be passed on to get approval from Hong Kong’s chief executive, which is currently Lam.

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After those two approvals, then suspects can be extradited. However, because Hong Kong is technically subordinate to mainland China, critics of the bill worry that it would be really difficult for the chief executive to reject an extradition request from her superiors.

Due to the fact that the chief executive proposed the bill herself, it seems unlikely that she would deny an extradition request at all.

Critics are also concerned the bill would basically allow anyone in to be picked up in Hong Kong and detained in mainland China, which means that the mainland could use the law to target political activists and dissidents, functionally legalizing abductions by mainland officials in Hong Kong that have been going on for a little while now.

Mainland officials are usually not allowed to operate in Hong Kong, but they have been known to illegally abduct people who work in bookstores that sell books that are critical of the mainland, as well as other critics of the Chinese government.

While the bill technically does not include extradition for political crimes, many people still worry that the legislation will just allow mainland Chinese authorities to further encroach on their independent territory.

Growing Chinese Influence

That concern is a valid one too. Over the last few years, mainland China has been steadily trying to exert more authority over Hong Kong by meddling in their internal affairs.

These efforts have risen significantly since Chinese President Xi took office in 2012. Since taking power, Xi has tightened control of his people and used all sorts of methods to stifle his critics, and because Hong Kong has a large community of pro-democracy activists and lawmakers, it is a clear target.

However, Hong Kong’s constitution specifically prohibits mainland authorities from restraining dissent in the city. Experts say that because of that protection, mainland China has been forced to slowly chip away at Hong Kong’s independence and institutions in other ways.

Already, mainland-aligned government officials in Hong Kong have ousted opposition lawmakers and denied civilian demands for free elections.

Lam’s decision to press ahead with the extradition bill is also an example of a mainland-affiliated lawmaker pushing ahead with a policy that appears to be largely opposed by the people.

The opposition to the bill also extends beyond the residents of Hong Kong. Business people worry the bill could hurt foreign interest in investment in Hong Kong because some companies may even be forced to leave.

A group of bipartisan legislators in the U.S. sent a letter last month to Lam, calling for the legislation to be immediately withdrawn, and saying they were concerned the law would “negatively impact the relationship between the United States and Hong Kong.”

Even Taiwan, which would have a trial for the man that Lam claims prompted the extradition bill in the first place, has stated it will comply with an extradition agreement because it’s politically motivated.

Taiwanese officials have also said that the authorities in Hong Kong have ignored three separate requests from Taiwan for governments to figure out an arrangement to deal with the murder case, which would bypass the need for the bill at all.

Regardless, Lam announced following the protest that she will still move forward with the legislation. Lawmakers will resume debating the bill this week, and a vote is expected on June 27. Due to the fact that pro-Beijing lawmakers have 43 of 70 seats in the legislature, it appears that bill will likely pass.

Protest organizers have scheduled another round of protests for Wednesday.

See what others are saying: (Vox) (The New York Times) (Hong Kong Free Press)

International

Thousands Protest in Algeria Over “Sham” Election

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  • Massive protests have broken out all over Algeria, which is holding its first election since its president stepped down in April after weeks of demonstrations.
  • Protests have been ongoing since February, with demonstrators calling for a complete overhaul of the entire political system.
  • The protestors have called for a boycott of the election, saying it is a sham and that fair elections cannot be held while the ruling elite and military are in power.

Continuous Protests

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Algeria on Thursday, calling for boycotts of the presidential election.

Protestors say that the election is a sham and that free and fair elections cannot be held as long as the ruling elite and the military are still in power.

Algerians have been holding weekly peaceful protests since February after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced that he would run for a fifth term. 

Bouteflika had already been president for two decades, but ever since he suffered a stroke in 2013, he rarely made public appearances.

According to reports, he had basically left the day-to-day running of the country to a very secretive group of his own relatives and senior military officials.

After weeks of protests, Bouteflika eventually resigned in April when his military chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah, called for a constitutional provision to be activated that would deem the president unfit to rule.

Salah became the de facto leader of the country, and Bouteflika appointed Abdelkader Bensalah as interim president and Nouredine Bedoui as interim prime minister until elections could be held in 90 days.

The protests did not stop after Bouteflika stepped down. Instead, the protestors called for the new leaders to step down too, and for the military to give up control of the government.

They argued that the leaders were part of the corrupt old regime and had benefitted from Bouteflika’s rule. Because of that, they felt nothing would change as long as they held power or controlled the elections.

When the military scheduled new elections for July, protestors demanded that they cancel them. Eventually, the military agreed to the protestors’ demands and called off the elections, though they later rescheduled them for December 12.

But the leaders still refused to give up power, and with the lack of actual structural change, the demonstrations continued. 

New Elections & Protests

After the second election date was announced, protestors called for the December elections to be canceled until there could be a complete overhaul of the political system.

Those demands became even more heightened after the government announced that all five of the presidential candidates it had chosen had ties to Bouteflika or his regime, with four of them having served as ministers under him.

For the protestors, not only has there been no political reforms, all of their options for president are people tied to the regime. 

On top of that, because the interim leaders’ have ties to Bouteflika, many protestors believe that they cannot be trusted to hold a free and transparent election— a concern that has been even more legitimized by the fact that the government denied the protestors’ demand to have independent supervision of the election.

Still, the leadership and the military have refused to cancel the election, arguing that it is the only way forward and the only way to achieve political stability.

“The election of December 12th constitutes a historic opportunity for our citizens who are committed to democracy and social justice, and to building the rule of law institutions to which our people aspire,” Interim President Bensalah said in a statement Wednesday.

When it was clear the government had no plans to cancel the election, protestors became even more energized and took to the streets to call for a boycott of the election altogether.

Thousands of people demonstrated in the capital Algiers on the day of the election, where they were reportedly heard chanting: “There is no vote today,” “Independence,” and “No vote with the mafia.”

The protestors were met by riot police, who reportedly clashed with the demonstrators and violently dispersed the crowds.

In some cities, it has been reported that protestors stormed polling places. One video showed people throwing ballot boxes to the ground and tossing ballots in the air. Police have also responded with tear gas in some places.

According to reports, voter turnout has been extremely low, sitting at only 33% by 5 p.m. local time, with just two hours left of polling. Around 24 million people are eligible to vote.

The results are expected to be announced on Friday. In order to win the election, a candidate must get more than 50% of the votes. If no candidate receives 50% or more, the two leading candidates go to a runoff in a few weeks.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Wall Street Journal) (BBC)

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How Police Deal With Protests and Riots All Over the World…

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Throughout the world, from Hong Kong to Lebanon, and Chile to Iraq, there have been large-scale protests where millions have demanded changes in their societies. A few things have been consistent; nearly all started as peaceful protests, and nearly all of them have devolved into violence between protesters and police. But in ideal scenarios, police doctrines officially try to avoid violence, so how do these situations happen? Sometimes protesters get out of hand, but often poorly trained riot police and a cavalier “us versus them” attitude can be the catalyst for violence.

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Myanmar’s Leader Defends 2017 Operation That Killed Thousands of Muslims

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  • Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, defended her country before the United Nations, saying it had not acted with genocidal intent in a 2017 operation that resulted in the deaths of 24,000 minority Muslims.
  • Suu Kyi’s comments come as she faces increasing criticism for being complicit with the Myanmar military’s action. 
  • Previously, Suu Kyi had won a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in promoting democracy.

Suu Kyi Defends Myanmar

Speaking before the United Nation’s International Court of Justice, Myanmar’s Leader defended the state against accusations that it acted with genocidal intent in a 2017 operation that led to the deaths of more than 24,000 minority Muslims.

Aung San Suu Kyi—a Nobel Peace laureate and Myanmar’s State Counselor, a role akin to a prime minister—had previously been heralded as an icon for democracy, though that status has slipped in recent years. Though she has no power over the military, her handling of the operation has led to criticism that she is being “complicit.”

Suu Kyi’s comments come a day after hearing horribly graphic testimony of what happened to the Rohingya Muslims during that operation.

During the hearing, she described the case brought by the Republic of The Gambia and a dozen other majority-Muslim countries as  “incomplete and incorrect.” 

She then referred to the situation an “internal armed conflict” and argued that the military had pursued an extremist threat, saying Rohingya militants had attacked government security posts.

Though she did admit that Myanmar’s military might have used too much force at times—including admitting that the army had used military gunships on civilians—she also argued that any soldiers who committed war crimes would be prosecuted.

She went on to say that since the country is investigating war criminals, the state could not be accused of genocide.

“Can there be genocidal intent on the part of the state that actively investigates, prosecutes and punishes soldiers and officers, who are accused of wrongdoing?” she said in The Hague on Wednesday. “Although the focus here is on members of the military, I can assure you that appropriate action will also be taken on civilian offenders, in line with due process.” 

However, in May, seven Myanmar soldiers were released from jail early after being accused of killing 10 Rohingya men. On top of that, the military also previously cleared itself of any previous wrongdoing in the killings.

Suu Kyi also told the court that Myanmar was committed to helping Rohingya refugees return to their homes in Rakhine. Notably, she then urged the court to stop short of any action that might make the conflict worse.

Expectedly, many Rohingya refugees watching Suu Kyi’s defense on live TV shouted that she was a liar. Others also chanted, “Shame on you!” They then carried those words into the streets and were met by about 250 pro-Myanmar protesters who said they stood with Suu Kyi.

Why is Myanmar in Court?

On August 25, 2017, the Burmese army—Myanmar’s armed forces—undertook a massive operation in the northern state of Rakhine.

Though Myanmar is predominantly a Buddhist nation, a significant Muslim population lived in the area. That minority, known as Rohingya Muslims, has been denied citizenship by Myanmar, and the country considers them to be illegal immigrants.

The operation to clear the Rohingya from the area led to the deaths of 24,000 people and the mass relocation of an estimated 915,000 to the neighboring country of Bangladesh. In March, the government of Bangladesh announced that it would stop taking in Rohingya refugees. Meanwhile, in Rakhine, whole villages sit empty.

In October, The Gambia’s attorney general, Ba Tambadou told the BBC he decided to launch a case against Myanmar after visiting a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. There, he said he heard of killings, torture, and even rape during the operation.

In its submission, The Gambia claims the operation was “intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group, in whole or in part,” by means mass murder, rape and setting fire to buildings, “often with inhabitants locked inside.”

The UN then led a fact-finding mission and found such compelling evidence that it decided to take up the case to investigate the Burmese army.

Myanmar soldiers “routinely and systematically employed rape, gang rape and other violent and forced sexual acts against women, girls, boys, men and transgender people,” the report found in August.

For its part, The Gambia says it is only asking that Myanmar “stop these senseless killings” and “stop these acts of barbarity.”

How Will All of This End?

The ICJ’s first phase of hearings will conclude Thursday; however, the case is expected to be drawn out over the course of several years. 

“The final judgment can take a long time [of up to five years], but for victims and their communities, it’s an incredible moment,” a human rights expert told Al Jazeera. “This sends a very strong message to the Rohingya that the international community is watching and listening to them.”

Currently, The Gambia is only asking that the ICJ impose “provisional measures” that protect Rohingya in Myanmar and other countries.

Even if the court were to rule that Myanmar did break genocide laws, neither Suu Kyi nor any generals involved in the operation would be automatically arrested and put on trial.

On Tuesday, the U.S. responded by stiffening sanctions against several senior military commanders in Myanmar.

“The United States will not tolerate torture, kidnapping, sexual violence, murder or brutality against innocent civilians,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Al Jazeera) (The New York Times)

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