SYDNEY (Reuters) - Anger in Hong Kong over a move to allow extraditions to mainland China spilled over into Sydney on Sunday, with migrants gathering for a protest and urging the Australian government to condemn the proposed new law.
Accountant Ida Lee, one of 1,000 people who gathered in central Sydney, told Reuters she valued her freedom of speech, and that expatriates feared being seized by China as they traveled through Hong Kong.
“Ordinary people like me, I think, will live in perpetual fear of breaking some law in China, and as we’re passing through Hong Kong we’ll be arrested and extradited,” she said.
Hong Kong government officials have repeatedly defended the proposed bill that would allow suspects to be sent to China to face trial, saying the law carries adequate safeguards. But many of its opponents deeply question the fairness and transparency of the Chinese court system and worry about security forces contriving charges.
Australia, with a population of 25 million, has a large Chinese diaspora. More than 500,000 people born in China and more than 86,000 people born in Hong Kong were in Australia as of the 2016 census.
Protest organizer Jared Fu, a university student, called on the Australian government to condemn the proposed law, as the United States, Canada and the European Union had done.
“Our major concerns regarding this bill include possible political persecution and human rights violations and even threats to personal safety if detained by China,” he said.
Australia’s government has not condemned the law but a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson told Reuters on Sunday that its consul-general in Hong Kong had raised the issue with senior levels of the city’s government.
“The Australian government is taking a close interest in the proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance in Hong Kong, including to ascertain any impacts on Australian residents,” the spokesperson said via email.
Fu told the crowd the protest had been organized by volunteers and not by any political organization in either Hong Kong or Australia.
“This is essential to clarify considering China’s government habitually accuses all foreign movements concerning Hong Kong of Western conspiracy,” he said.
“This is not true. We are out here today because we not only care about human rights, we also care about Hong Kong and Australians who may have connections with Hong Kong as well.”
Jacob Cheng, 62, a sales manager who moved from Hong Kong to Sydney in 1989, said Hong Kong residents had to defend their freedom and democracy for the sake of future generations.
“If Hong Kong people are not standing out (to protest) and get the law passed, the woe will pass on to our kids and their kids,” he told Reuters in Cantonese.
Half a million people were expected to brave sweltering heat on Sunday in Hong Kong to press the government to scrap the proposed law.
Reporting by Alison Bevege; Editing by Kim Coghill