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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)

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Death Toll in Myanmar Surpasses 50 People as Police Continue To Use Live Ammunition

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  • At least 50 people have died across Myanmar since the start of the coup on Feb. 1, with Wednesday being the single largest loss of life to date after 38 were shot by security forces.
  • Despite the danger, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
  • The U.N. Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss how to deal with the situation in Myanmar in response to calls for a solution from nations and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Growing Violence Across Myanmar

Over the weekend, security forces in Myanmar killed 18 anti-coup protesters and wounded at least 30 more. Across the subsequent three days, that number rose considerably.

According to the U.N., at least 38 people were killed on Wednesday alone.; making it the bloodiest day of the coup so far and raising the overall death toll to over 50. Exact number are difficult to find, as the chaos on the ground precludes outlets from confirming accounts of possibly more deaths.

The violence has occurred across the country, with the deaths largely being tied to the use of live ammunition by security forces. The demonstrations, and the response to them, have been widely captured on camera. Some of the most shocking scenes are of police passing a BA-53 (a Burmese Army variant of the HK G3 military rifle) to fire into protesters.

Despite the death, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Thursday morning saw thousands in the streets who attended vigils for those slain on Wednesday, an increasingly common ritual for the prior day’s deaths.

Sanctions May Not Work

The United States has tried to get neighboring countries to join it and the European Union in sanctioning the Burmese military, but few Southeast Asian countries wanted to sign on, which gives the Burmese military breathing room as most of its diplomatic and trade relations are with neighboring countries.

At the U.N., Security Council members are due to meet on Friday to discuss calls from countries and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to stop the coup and the escalating crackdowns against protesters. However, it’s unclear what more they can do. Sanctions against specific military leaders are often ineffective, yet sanctions on the country as a whole would affect the everyday people they’re trying to support.

Other options include direct intervention, but Justine Chambers, Associate Director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University, pushed back against this, telling The New York Times, “Unfortunately I don’t think the brutality caught on camera is going to change much.”

“I think domestic audiences around the world don’t have much of an appetite for stronger action, i.e. intervention, given the current state of the pandemic and associated economic issues.”

While it’s unclear what more the international community can do, it’s quite likely that violence will continue in Myanmar as citizens try to peacefully restore democracy.

See what others are saying: (AP) (Reuters) (New York Times)

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Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims

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  • Saudi Arabia will require all pilgrims participating in the Hajj this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to local media.
  • The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime if they are physically or financially able to.
  • Many believe the inoculation requirement may help allay suspicions over vaccines within certain Muslim communities.
  • Those suspicions have persisted despite Muslim leaders clarifying that there are no theological problems with taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.

COVID-19 Vaccines for Pilgrims

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, according to local outlet Okaz.

The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims at least once in their lifetime – assuming they are physically and financially able to. However, requiring a vaccine before taking part in the Hajj isn’t a new thing. In fact, Saudi Arabia already has a list of necessary vaccinations for pilgrims.

For a virus that is among the most virulent in recent history and requiring a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense, especially since the Hajj is among the most densely populated events in the world.

In an effort to combat COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has also introduced restrictions over how many pilgrims can come to Mecca for the first time in modern history.

Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to partake in the Hajj will likely have the added benefit of allaying fears about COVID-19 vaccines in Muslim communities, which account for nearly 2 billion people in the world. While Muslims overall support vaccinations and their religious leaders openly support vaccination efforts, some do doubt vaccines for either political reasons or religious ones.

Changes in Vaccine Hesitancy

Suspicions have arisen due to recent history, notably after Osama bin Laden was located through a vaccine program that acted as a front for the C.I.A. That incident led to a wider-anti vaccine movement in parts of Pakistan that have seen vaccine clinics burned to the ground.

Others are worried over more religious concerns, such as whether the vaccines are Halal, which is roughly the Muslim version of Kosher. To that, most major vaccines say that they are Halal and contain no animal products, such as Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and AstraZeneca’s,

While other possibly non-Halal vaccines, such as Sinovac’s, have been given the okay from major Islamic authorities, such as Indonesia’ Ulema Council.

The concerns over whether a vaccine is Halal or not may be mute as most imams and Islamic councils have clarified that such dietary restrictions are trumped by the need to save human lives.

While the Health Ministry’s statement is for 2021, it’s possible that the decision will last beyond that based on the pandemic’s progress.

See what other are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Hill) (Middle East Eye)

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E.U. and U.S. Sanction Russian Officials Over Navalny Detention

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  • The E.U. and U.S. coordinated new sanctions against seven Russian officials tied to the current fate of activist and Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
  • More efforts are expected to follow, with officials claiming that 14 Russian entities tied to the manufacturing of Novichok – the rare nerve agents that supposedly poisoned Navalny – are the next to be sanctioned.
  • Despite the sanctions, Biden’s administration hopes to be able to work with Russia on other world issues, such as nuclear arms in Iran and North Korea.
  • Navalny himself isn’t likely to benefit from the sanctions as he’s serving a 2.5-year prison sentence in one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies.

Coordinated Efforts by E.U. and U.S.

The U.S. and E.U. both announced coordinated sanctions against Russia Tuesday morning over the poisoning, arrest, and detention of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

In particular, seven senior officials are targeted by the sanctions.

  • Federal Security Service Director Aleksandr Bortnikov
  • Chief of the Presidential Policy Directorate Andrei Yarin
  • First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko
  • Deputy Minister of Defense Aleksey Krivoruchko
  • Deputy Minister of Defense Pavel Popov
  • Federal Penitentiary Service director Alexander Kalashnikov
  • Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov.

Both the E.U. and U.S. also plan to add fourteen entities that are involved in making the extremely deadly Russian nerve agent Novichok.

First Step For Biden

These sanctions are the first such action by the Biden administration against Russia and seem to be a tone shift from the previous administration. The Trump administration was considered relatively soft on Russia and only enacted a few sanctions over election interference, which were only softly enforced.

One U.S. official, according to NBC News reportedly said, that “today is the first such response, and there will be more to come.”

“The United States is neither seeking to reset our relations with Russia nor are we seeking to escalate,” the official went on to add.

The man at the center of all this, Alexei Navalny, has been an outspoken critic of Putin who was arrested when he returned to Russia from Germany after being treated for Novichok poisoning.

He was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison over alleged fraud crimes and is reported to have been sent to one of Russia’s worst penal colonies outside of the city of Pokrov to serve out his term.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (NPR) (NBC News)

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