In recent years, Hong Kong authorities have disqualified pro-democracy candidates from running for parliament; jailed members of the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement; banned a pro-independence political party; and refused to renew the visa of a journalist who is vice president of the Foreign Correspondents' Club after the club hosted an address by a pro-independence politician.
"Beijing's assault on Hong Kong's freedoms, particularly the rights to free expression, association and political participation, worsened considerably in 2018," Human Rights Watch reported in its 2019 World Report.
The battle over the extradition bill may bleed into global tensions over China's rising geopolitical and strategic clout, which has erupted into a trade war. Tensions jumped after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, an executive of the Chinese tech giant Huawei, on a U.S. extradition request. China responded with arrests of two Canadians, including political analyst Michael Kovrig of the International Crisis Group and businessman Michael Spavor -- seen by Western diplomats as the kind of tit-for-tat abuses that could unfold in Hong Kong should the bill be passed.
"That's exactly the kind of weaponization of the legal system that people are afraid of," said Antony Dapiran, author of "City of Protest," a book about dissent in Hong Kong." China sees Canada's arrest of Meng as political and an abuse.
Kevin Yam, Hong Kong-based lawyer and former coordinator of the Progressive Lawyers Group, said that, under the proposed law, Hong Kong courts would have limited scope to refuse extraditions.
"I think it's one of those situations where the odds are heavily stacked against the protest movement succeeding. We've got the Hong Kong government basically sticking its fingers up to the business community, the international community and various professional groups as well as a million Hong Kong people."
Pro-democracy activist and politician Albert Ho of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China said the Hong Kong government cared more about pleasing authorities in Beijing than listening to anger in Hong Kong. He warned that Beijing's increasing pressure on Hong Kong's freedoms could undermine Hong Kong's vibrancy and turn it into just another ordinary Chinese city.
"We are heading toward that direction. Hong Kong is in a direct confrontation between the soft power of Hong Kong as a free city and the sharp power of Beijing.
"We are doing everything we can to stop or slow down the process. We have a dynamic civil society and a rich tradition of the rule of law and people aspire to human rights and freedom. We will speak out and resist anything that seeks to erode our values," Ho said.
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