Thousands sign petitions against extradition bill at 90 Hong Kong schools – including city leader Carrie Lam’s alma mater St Francis Canossian College
- More than three-quarters of the Executive Council and most pro-government lawmakers went to schools which now have petitions against controversial plan
- Citywide campaign backed by more than 23,000 has mushroomed days ahead of a massive rally planned by the pro-democracy bloc
More than 23,000 students, alumni and teachers from all public universities and one in seven secondary schools in Hong Kong have joined online petitions against a controversial extradition bill, in a snowballing campaign rarely seen in the city.
Among the nearly 90 schools were the alma maters of the city leader and her aides, as well as the school of the victim in a murder case which the government claims triggered the bill.
The citywide campaign mushroomed overnight on Tuesday, days ahead of a massive rally planned by the pro-democracy bloc on June 9 to oppose the amendment which, if passed, would allow the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions which the city does not have a treaty with, including mainland China and Taiwan.
Opponents of the bill, including a number of foreign countries, worry about unfair trials and a lack of human rights protections north of the border.
Alumni of St Francis Canossian College, which Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor attended, called on the city’s leader to withdraw the bill immediately.
“We hope our senior alumna can engrave our school motto ‘Live by the truth in love’ on her mind and step back from the precipice to prevent injustice and to defend human rights, freedom and rule of law for the Hong Kong people” the college’s petition, which had 452 signatures by 4pm, read.
Lam’s administration has claimed the proposal was to plug legal loopholes and allow the transfer to Taiwan of a Hongkonger wanted for the murder of his pregnant girlfriend in Taipei.
The suspect, Chan Tong-kai, 20, was jailed in Hong Kong on related money-laundering charges and could be released by October at the earliest, when he would be free to leave the city.
But even the alumni, students and teachers at St Stephen’s College, which the victim attended from Form 1 to Form 3, were unconvinced as they accused the government of using her case as a pretext to force the bill’s passage.
“Teachers, students and alumni of the college are deeply grieved over her tragic death, but what we have seen is that the Hong Kong government did not respond positively to Taipei’s suggestions,” the petition, initiated by two alumni and two teachers, stated.
“Instead, it has been forcing the bill’s passage under the guise of justice, which may eventually make it impossible to handle the case … How can justice for the victim be done?”
They were referring to the government’s refusal to handle Chan’s case separately first and its insistence on pushing ahead with the controversial changes. Taiwan has already made it clear it would not initiate an extradition request under the bill, fearing the changes would put its citizens at risk of being extradited to mainland China via Hong Kong.
Chung Kwan Kam-sheung, a teacher behind the petition, told the Post that Poon was quiet and a bit frustrated by her struggles to fit in the college.
Chung urged the government to listen to the people and handle Chan’s case separately.
“What is the real intention behind the government’s insistence?” Chung said. “It will be a great pity if he can’t be tried [for the murder].”
Twenty-nine of the 33 members in the Executive Council, the chief executive’s de facto cabinet, and more than half of the 43 pro-government lawmakers in the Legislative Council, attended schools which now have active petitions against the bill.
That included St Mary’s Canossian College and Wah Yan College, Kowloon, which Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah and security minister John Lee Ka-chiu attended respectively. The St Mary’s petition had 852 signatures by 3pm.
Former medical sector lawmaker Leung Ka-lau, who was considered a member of the pro-establishment bloc, joined the petition launched by Queen’s College alumni.
Leung said any normal person would call for the bill to be shelved.
“Now Taiwan has already made clear it will not accept the fugitive even if the bill is passed, no normal person should support the government’s stance,” Leung said. “There are a lot of other means to tackle the same outstanding case.”
Outcry from the education sector has in the past been a game-changing force in Hong Kong political controversies.
A petition movement of a similar scale emerged in 2012, demanding the government withdraw its plan to make national education a compulsory subject in primary and secondary schools. The administration eventually backed down after 90,000 people took to the streets against it, answering a call from students and parents.
And in 2014, a students’ strike at hundreds of secondary schools and universities raised the curtain on the pro-democracy Occupy sit-ins, the largest civil disobedience movement in the city’s history.
Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a senior lecturer in political sciences at Chinese University, said the scale of the petitions, the largest since 2014, showed fears over the bill had spilled over from the traditional base of democracy supporters.
“The city hasn’t seen this for a long time – not even in 2003,” Choy said, referring to a protest when half a million Hongkongers marched to oppose a national security law.
“More people are joining forces because they widely share the fear that the essence of Hong Kong being an international finance centre and a free city will be lost.”
City University political scientist Ray Yep Kin-man said the chief executive had trapped herself in a dilemma by underestimating public opposition to the bill.
“This could be a turning point in Carrie Lam’s career as the city’s leader, beyond which she could no longer recover Hong Kong people’s trust,” Yep said. “The passage of the bill in that case would be a pyrrhic victory. But if she failed, Beijing would consider her useless.”
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, speaking in Beijing after visiting the mainland education ministry, said some local schools told authorities the petitions did not reflect their official stance, and discussion of the bill was not that hot on campus.
“If students are puzzled towards certain social issues, teachers should explain to them in an unbiased way, but not to instil their personal political stance,” Yeung said.
Yeung’s alma mater Wah Yan College Kowloon has also started a petition. Addressing his alumni, Yeung said: “I believe students in Hong Kong can tell what is right and wrong.”
Additional reporting by Alvin Lum and Kimmy Chung