CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Church leaders call for independent inquiry and withdrawal of extradition bill

HONG KONG (SE): Responding to the June 18 apology of Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam Chen Yuet-ngor, apology for the disputes and anxiety that resulted from her handling of the controversial extradition bill, John Cardinal Tong Hon, the apostolic administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, and Reverend So Shing-yit, chairperson of the Hong Kong Christian Council, issued a statement on July 19 accepting Lam’s personal and public apology along with the admission of her inadequacies. 
 
The now-suspended bill would allow the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no extradition deal, including mainland China. 
 
The two religious leaders called for an explicit statement stating that the bill has been withdrawn, rather than just suspended, given the strong public demand.
 
They also called on the Hong Kong government to launch a thorough, independent inquiry into the violent clashes on June 12 between the police and protesters outside the Legislative Council Building in Admiralty, when the second reading of the bill was supposed to have taken place. They believe the results can provide lessons for the future. 
 
However, as of the morning of June 26, Lam had kept out of the public eye hoping not to stir up further antipathy in advance of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. However, it was reported in the South China Morning Post, citing multiple sources, that the chief executive still had no plans to withdraw the problematic legislation.
 
During a prayer service on July 19, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing urged people to abandon their hatred and anger as the clashes between the police and the protesters have undermined trust and harmony.
 
The prayer service, held outside the Court of Final Appeal in Admiralty, was organised by the Justice and Peace Commission, the Diocesan Youth Commission and the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students to pray for young people determined to seek justice in the midst of the crisis arising the attempt the ramrod the extradition bill through the legislature.
 
Bishop Ha also urged the Hong Kong government to withdraw the bill and set up an independent inquiry committee into the clashes between the police and the protesters on June 12.
 
He expressed his hope that the government would consider how best to respond to the demands of the public. He said the fact that there are calls for an independent inquiry clashes on June 12 shows there is a respect for an unbiased government system. He said he cannot understand why this could not be done.
 
The student unions of nine tertiary institutions issued a 5.00pm deadline on June 20 for the government to respond to demands, including withdrawing the bill, the setting up of an independent inquiry to look into whether or not police used excessive force in dealing with protesters, the dropping of charges against all arrested during the June 12 protests and the retraction of the classification of the protest as a “riot.” 
 
After the deadline passed with no response, thousands of protestors gathered outside the Legislative Council Building in Admiralty on the morning of June 21, took over the main roads in the area and later besieged the Revenue Tower, Immigration Tower and police headquarters in Wanchai. Protesters finally left the police headquarters around 3.00am the next day. 
 
In an interview with Cable TV on the morning of June 21, Bishop Ha told protesters, “You’ve already done a lot. You have already expressed very clearly your hopes and wishes” and urged them to be calm and to seek justice in peaceful ways. 
 
The message was later posted on the Facebook page of the Diocesan Audio Visual Centre. In the message, the bishop expressed his fear for the safety of the protesters on the streets. 
 
He said the young people had already brought about a miracle as two weeks prior, no one would have believed that the extradition bill would be suspended. He said their actions had awakened the conscience of the two million people who took to the streets on June 16. He said it is necessary to recognise their efforts.
 
He added, “I hope your struggle will not affect the mass of ordinary people, otherwise public opinion can sway (against you).”
 
Bishop Ha said the power young people should rely on is the power of conscience which is unbreakable, but can only be awakened through peaceful protest.

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