HONG KONG - Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday the extradition bill that sparked the Chinese-ruled city’s biggest crisis in decades is dead and that government work on the legislation had been a “total failure," but critics accused her of playing with words.
The bill, which would allow people in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China to face trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, sparked huge and at times violent street protests and plunged the former British colony into turmoil.
In mid-June, Lam responded to protests that drew hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets by suspending the bill, but that did not stop demonstrations that shut government offices and brought parts of the financial center to a standstill.
Her latest attempt to restore order did not satisfy many protesters who stood by demands that she completely withdraw the bill.
“There are still lingering doubts about the government’s sincerity or worries whether the government will restart the process in the Legislative Council,” Lam told reporters on Tuesday.
“So, I reiterate here, there is no such plan, the bill is dead.” The government’s work on the bill had been a “total failure,” she said.
The bill triggered outrage across broad sections of Hong Kong society amid concerns it would threaten the much-cherished rule of law that underpins the city’s international financial status.
Lawyers and rights groups say China’s justice system is marked by torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detention, claims that Beijing denies.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of a high degree of autonomy, including an independent legal system and right to protest, but in recent years there has been growing concern about the erosion of those freedoms at the hands of Beijing.
Critics of the extradition bill fear Beijing could use it to crack down on dissent.