Hong Kong’s security minister announced Wednesday the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill that has sparked months of protests in the territory. The procedure makes good a pledge to scrap the detested measure made last month by the enclave’s embattled leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
“The government has expressed several times that the work [related to the bill] had completely stopped. Now, in order to more clearly illustrate the government’s stance on the bill, I … formally announce the withdrawal of the bill,” John Lee said in the Legislative Council as pro-democracy lawmakers called for his resignation.
The formality may ease some tensions but it remains to be seen whether or not it will put an end to Hong Kong’s civil unrest, which has escalated from the initial opposition to the bill into a push for greater political freedom.
Kenneth Chan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, told TIME that the procedure was “a belated response to the growing anger of Hong Kong people, and it’s come to the point that it may no longer even be relevant in terms of calming society down.”
He added: “The protests have evolved further now. It’s not only about the law, but a full-scale governance crisis concerning police measures and the lack of political accountability of the Carrie Lam administration. For restoring trust, a proper independent investigation [into alleged police brutality] is necessary, and it would help a lot if Beijing and the Hong Kong government can consider opening the democratization process.”
Coincidentally, the man whose case was cited by the Hong Kong government as a pressing reason to implement the bill walked free from prison today.
Chan Tong-kai, 20, completed a sentence for money laundering, relating to the theft and sale of items belonging to his girlfriend, whom he reportedly confessed to murdering while on a visit to Taiwan. Hong Kong officials had consistently argued that amendments to existing extradition laws were needed in order for Chan to be returned to Taiwan to stand trial for the murder.
“The Taiwan murder case has set the clock ticking,” Lam told media in April. “We don’t want the suspect to escape.”
However, the legal amendments that the government attempted to fast track in order to render Chan to Taiwan also contained provisions for the extradition of suspects to several other jurisdictions, including, for the first time, mainland China.
Critics feared that the Chinese Communist Party would use the new measure to round up dissidents other political opponents in Hong Kong, which was retroceded to China in 1997 after 156 years as a British colony. Hongkongers marched in their millions to voice their displeasure at what they saw as a violation of the semi-autonomous enclave’s cherished freedoms, and the city has been in crisis ever since.
—With reporting by Hillary Leung / Hong Kong