- 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.https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
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)
Myanmar Soldiers Claim in Confession Video They Were Ordered to Kill and Rape Rohingya
- Two Myanmar soldiers have appeared in a confessional video claiming to have been ordered to kill and rape Rohingya in 2017.
- These are the first two first-hand accounts from Myanmar soldiers confirming widespread accusations that the Myanmar military partook in potential genocide against ethnic Rohingya.
- However, the veracity of the claims hasn’t been confirmed, nor has whether or not the soldiers gave their confessions under duress by the rebel Arakan Army, who released the video.
- Both men are currently at The Hague being interrogated by investigators at the International Criminal Court.
Genocide in the 21st Century
Two members of the Myanmar military appeared in a recently released video where they seemed to admit that they were ordered to pillage, kill, and rape Rohingya Muslims in 2017. The confessions appear to match accounts of the situation in Rakhine given by Rohingya survivors.
The Rohingya are a prominent ethnic group that live in the Rakhine state in western Myanmar, which borders the sea and Bangladesh. They have been described by the Myanmar government as “illegal aliens” despite having been in the region as far back as the 15th century.
Over the decades, the Rohingya have been persecuted by the Myanmar military, which has demanded that they “return” to neighboring Bangladesh. In 2017, those tensions escalated when the military heavily cracked down on the Rakhine state and engaged in what human rights have described as having the “hallmarks of genocide.” Not only were Rohignya targeted, but many other people across the region.
At the time, video and satellite images of the areas showed large scale destruction, with many villages completely burned down. Tens of thousands fled their homes to refugee camps in Bangladesh.
According to Private Myo Win Tun and Private Zaw Naing Tun, the two men seen in the confessional video, “We destroyed the Muslim villages near Taung Bazar village. We implemented the clearance operations in the night-time as per the command to ‘shoot all that you see and that you hear.’ We buried a total number of 30 dead bodies in one grave.”
Justice Being Sought
The two soldiers are said to have fled Myanmar last month and arrived in Bangladesh, from where on Monday they were transported to The Hague, home of the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands.
As for the veracity of the video, that is harder to determine. It is unclear if the soldiers are giving this confession under duress, or if they surrendered as deserters. The video was filmed by the Arakan Army, the largest and most organized militant group in Rakhine state, who represent a coalition of various ethnic groups in the region against the central Myanmar government.
This lends to the possibility that the men were coerced to confess under duress. Yet, the Arakan Army has a long standing feud with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, the main militant group representing the Rohingya,who would benefit the most from admissions of genocide.
However, many Human Rights Groups think the confessions are legitimate.
“This is a monumental moment for Rohingya and the people of Myanmar in their ongoing struggle for justice,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer at Fortify Rights. “These men could be the first perpetrators from Myanmar tried at the I.C.C., and the first insider witnesses in the custody of the court.”
The Myanmar government continues to deny any wrongdoing in Rakhine, stating that the operations there were to clear out terrorist elements. Any footage of burned down villages has been waived away as Rohingya burning down their own villages for sympathy. Since 2017, only a handful of soldiers have been punished with short prison terms for “isolated” incidents.
The two soldiers held at The Hague are not under arrest, but are effectively in custody awaiting a potential trial. Lawyers and investigators have already spent weeks investigating their claims, and their testimony will likely be used by prosecutors at the International Court of Justice.
There, Myanmar is being accused in a filing by Gambia of trying to “destroy the Rohingya as a group, in whole or in part, by the use of mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as the systematic destruction by fire of their villages.”
See What Others Are Saying: (CNN) (New York Times) (Reuters)
Large Fire Erupts in Beirut’s Port, Weeks After Massive Explosion
- A large fire erupted in Beirut’s port Thursday, triggering panic among residents who are still traumatized by last month’s massive explosion. The Aug. 4 blast of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate left 190 dead, more than 6,000 injured, and 300,000 displaced from their homes.
- It’s not yet clear what caused the fire and crews are working to put it out. Residents have been warned to stay clear of the area in the meantime and no casualties were immediately reported.
- This is the second fire to break out at the port this week and it comes about a week after Lebanon’s army discovered four tons ammonium nitrate stored near the port.
- Some believe the fire was set intentionally to hide evidence related to the explosion. For now, residents continue to live on edge as their distrust in the country’s management grows.
Fire Breaks Out
A huge fire broke out in Beirut’s port on Thursday, terrifying local residents who are still recovering from the last month’s devastating explosion.
Video posted online shows people running from massive flames and thick black smoke, which can be viewed from miles away.
The fire was said to have started in a warehouse of a private company that imported cooking oil. It then spread to a separate stock of rubber tires, but as of now, there’s no information about what caused the blaze.
No casualties were immediately reported, though we some reports of people with shortness of breath. According to the state-run news agency NNA, Beirut’s governor told residents to stay clear of the port area “for their safety” and to allow firefighters to perform their duties unhindered. All roads leading into the port are blocked off, and the Lebanese Army is currently working to help firefighters by dropping water on the flames from helicopters.
Trauma From Last Month’s Blast Lingers
The fire broke out near a major highway known as a free zone, where companies store goods that have yet to clear customs. That area, like much of the port, was heavily damaged in the Aug. 4 explosion. That explosion was caused by a 2,750-ton stock of ammonium nitrate that was improperly stored for years. Records later showed that government officials knew of the dangerous chemical stockpile but failed to act.
The blast ultimately left 190 dead, more than 6,000 injured, and 300,000 displaced from their homes. For many, that explosion was the last straw, prompting major protests against longrunning corruption in the country, which was already suffering through its worst economic crisis in decades.
The protests eventually pushed the Prime Minister of Lebanon and his cabinet to resign, though many have still called for widespread reforms that will bring more meaningful change.
Still, even with the government resigning, fear within the community has persisted. Just last week, the Lebanese Army said it had found more than four tons of ammonium nitrate stored near the port. They disposed of it, but it was a chilling discovery that made many uneasy.
Then a smaller fire broke out earlier this week, which also caused a scare but was eventually put out by firefighters. This latest fire just builds onto the existing panic. People at the port and nearby neighborhoods have been scrambling flee or hide out of fear that this fire could cause a new explosion.
One local whose car and apartment were destroyed in the last month’s explosion told The New York Times, “I’m telling myself that nothing’s going to happen and it’s probably not a big deal, but you can’t fight the anxiety of opening all the windows, sitting inside a corridor or being jumpy all the time and having people call you, telling you to leave the area.”
Another person who was leaving the area with his wife and kids told Reuters, “I am forced to get them out of Beirut from the smoke and the fire that is happening at the port again.”
With a large fire so close to the original location of the explosion, some have speculated that it was deliberately set to destroy evidence. Others believe it’s just another example of what the country’s mismanagement brings.
Some, like Lebanese MP Rola Tabsh, are calling for an international investigation into the Beirut port fires.
“Beirut has suffocated from the smoke of your oppression. Beirut has burned from the fires of your corruption and arrogance,” she tweeted.
“An international investigation now and not tomorrow.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (BBC)
Thousands of Refugees Displaced After Fire Blazes Through Europe’s Largest Migrant Camp
- A fire raged through Europe’s largest migrant camp on Wednesday, displacing around 12,000 refugees in a camp meant for 3,000.
- The fire reportedly began overnight on the Greek island of Lesbos, but its cause remains unknown.
- The fire follows reported clashes within the camp after 35 refugees, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, refused to isolate themselves and their families. It is still unconfirmed if those families actually refused to isolate or if this is what led to the fire.
- Following evacuations, police blocked off roads leading to nearby towns, and locals attacked and prevented migrants from passing through a nearby village.
Fire Breaks Out
A massive fire almost completely destroyed Europe’s largest migrant camp, leaving 12,000 migrants without shelter.
The fire began overnight Tuesday. It originally started off as a series of small fires that broke out at the Moria Refugee Camp, located on the Greek island of Lesbos. Those fires became so large and destructive that within a matter of hours, they had reportedly left the entire camp unusable.
Outside the scope of the fire, the situation has exposed a host of other serious issues faced by the Moria camp migrants. While an estimated 12,000 migrants had been sent to the camp to await updates on their asylum applications, it was only built to accommodate between 2,000 to 3,000 people.
Human rights groups have criticized poor conditions at the site for years. In April, the Human Rights Watch even said that Greek authorities hadn’t done enough to tackle overcrowding, warning that the camp was not prepared to handle a potential coronavirus outbreak.
The situation has also seemed to only widen the divide between migrants and locals in the area. For example, as migrants fled the scene, police blocked off roads leading from the camp in order to prevent them from entering nearby towns as authorities scramble to find them housing.
According to reports, some locals have even attacked migrants and prevented them from passing through one nearby village.
Because of that, the United Nations Human Rights Council has attempted to address the tension by urging people to “exercise restraint,” asking anyone who had been at the camp “to restrict their movements and stay near [the site], as a temporary solution is being found to shelter [migrants].”
What Led to the Fire?
It is unclear what directly led to the fires, but they came after a series of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Last week, authorities placed the camp under quarantine after a Somali migrant tested positive. By Tuesday, the number of cases had jumped up to 35.
The Greek news agency ANA reported that the fires broke out after some of the 35 refused to isolate themselves and their families. According to CNN, some migrants on the ground said the fires were started by refugee protesters when a demonstration erupted over lockdown measures; however, both accounts have yet to be officially confirmed, and there are actually other fires also burning on the island because of strong winds.
Michalis Fratzeskos, deputy mayor for civil protection, told Greek state television that the fire was “premeditated,” and that migrant tents had been empty, with arsonists “[taking] advantage of strong winds.”
A local fire chief said that when firefighters rushed onto the scene, their efforts were hampered by protesting migrants,
However, many migrants have lodged much different claims. Some told a reporter for the BBC Persian that the fire had broken out after scuffles between migrants and Greek forces at the camp. Several even blamed “far-right Greeks” for setting the fire after those coronavirus cases were announced. Those migrants also provided photos of what they claimed to be canisters that were used to set the fire.
“It’s a time bomb that finally exploded,” Marco Sandrone, the Lesbos project coordinator for Doctors Without Borders told the BBC, adding that the migrants had been kept in “inhumane conditions” for years.
Axel Steier, co-founder of aid group Mission Lifeline, also told CNN that “the people in Moria are exposed to extreme psychological stress.”
“The lockdown of the camp has now been the final straw,” he added. “The refugees in Moria are not treated as humans.”
A government spokesperson has confirmed that reports of arson are under investigation. The government itself has also declared a four-month state of emergency.
Internationally, the European Union has offered help, with EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson saying on Twitter that she has “agreed to finance the immediate transfer and accommodation” of “400 unaccompanied children and teenagers.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has also expressed interest in transporting refugees onto mainland Europe.
“In cooperation with the EU Commission and other EU member states willing to help, we need to sort out as quickly as possible how we can support Greece,” he said. “This includes the distribution of refugees among those in the EU that are willing to take them.”
According to The New York Times, Armin Laschet, a governor in western Germany, has also said he’s willing to admit up to a thousand refugees from the camp.