12 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 78 PART 1 JANUARY 2020
legislation was unworkable, as it did not recognize the common law requirements
that extraditions be based on the presumption of a fair trial and
humane punishment in the receiving country. The judges said that the Chinese
system was not one that could be trusted.
These are the sorts of legitimate legal and social concerns that understandably
fuelled the passions of the million or so people who poured into
the streets of Hong Kong back in June 2019 to protest the bill. The Fugitives
Bill was viewed as the starting point in eroding key principles of democratic
freedom underlying the rule of law enjoyed by Hong Kong. Back in June
2019 over 3,000 Hong Kong lawyers dressed in black and marched from the
Court of Final Appeal to the central government offices in protest against
the Fugitives Bill.
“I want to do what I can to ensure the Hong Kong government is forced
to backtrack … I am stunned they have come up with this plan,” said one
mainland Chinese lawyer based in Hong Kong.
“Even if we are not directly exposed, we know better than most just how
appalling the criminal justice system is across the border – there is no
open fair justice, you can’t always even get a lawyer. There is torture.”7
The Hong Kong government’s response was one of intransigence and
delay. These tactics allowed emotions to rise until outright hostility broke
out between frontline protesters and armed police. During an early escalation,
in a response to the black attire favoured by protesters, a group of
white-clad citizens armed with rods attacked unarmed peaceful protesters.
The police are said to have moved away from the area while the beatings
took place. The protesters’ demands started to grow and now included a
demand for an independent and impartial investigation into allegations of
police misconduct. Massive demonstrations resulted in a complete shutdown
of Hong Kong’s airport (court injunctions prevented further such closures).
The protesters, however, are largely leaderless. As their demands
grew, so did hostilities. The protests became more violent, with riot police
using tear gas to battle angry mobs hurling bricks and petrol bombs. Week
after week, Hong Kong, once a global symbol of freedom and economic success,
began to resemble a war zone.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam, with the full backing of Beijing, refused to
step down and declared emergency law in early October 2019. Tensions
continued to rise, and some of the protesters started resorting to violence.
By the time the Hong Kong government capitulated and withdrew the Fugitives
Bill on October 23, 2019, clashes between police and protesters were a
weekly occurrence—many of the clashes were extremely violent not only
between police and demonstrators, but also between citizens choosing sides
between Beijing and the protesters.