MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to start the program in Hong Kong, where hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets today to protest an extradition bill. The bill comes after a man allegedly killed his girlfriend last year in Taiwan then returned to Hong Kong. The Taiwanese government asked for help getting the man back to Taiwan to stand trial because there is no extradition treaty between Hong Kong and Taiwan. But opponents of the new bill worry that it opens the door for China to target political opponents and subject residents of Hong Kong to China's judicial system, which is controlled by the Communist Party.
Mary Hui is a reporter covering business and geopolitics in Asia for the global business news site Quartz. We reached her in Hong Kong.
Mary, thanks so much for talking to us.
MARY HUI: Thanks for having me, Michel.
MARTIN: So organizers say that there were about a million people protesting today. The police say it's more like a quarter of a million. Still, that is a lot of people in a city of 7 million people. You were out in the streets. What did you see?
HUI: The streets were completely packed. It was just jammed - a complete mosh pit. I was out there, and I had just never seen so many people out on the streets before. They were marching through the city's main east-west artery for about two and a half miles from the park to the government headquarters. The head of the crowd started streaming out of the park at around 2:30 in the afternoon. And five hours later, as I was circling back to the start of the march, people were still going strong, and the tail end of the crowd was nowhere to be seen. So that just shows you how many people were joining this march for hours on end.
MARTIN: The issue of extradition is certainly important, but it just isn't something we often see people demonstrating about. And why do you think this sparked such a massive response?
HUI: I think what's really driving people out to the streets today is fear and anger - anger that the Hong Kong government is trying to ram this legislation through without proper due process. And then fear that this is actually just going to spell the death of Hong Kong as people know it, where civil liberties are protected, where people have the freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, where there's this world-class judicial system that upholds the rule of law rather than rule by law, which is the case in China.
Some people are afraid that the extradition law will basically legalize kidnapping by the Chinese state. And that has already happened with several booksellers in Hong Kong being whisked away and mysteriously reappearing in Chinese detention. And so if this law is to pass, people fear that that will no longer be a news item or will just be a regular thing.
MARTIN: And to that question of how this bill is being rammed through, you know, what about that? Is there something about the way this bill is being, you know, processed, is extraordinary?
HUI: There are widespread complaints that there was no real public consultation about this. The legal sector, thousands of lawyers came out in force just this past week, and they marched in black in silence. And these are the people who would understand the law the best. And yet, the government has told them repeatedly that no, you lawyers don't understand the bill at all. And so that just shows that the government isn't really listening to the people, and people are feeling that. And that's why they took to the streets.
MARTIN: And, you know, authorities in Hong Kong did release a statement in response to the protests. What did it say?
HUI: Essentially, the government said that protesters had every right to demonstrate but that this bill is going to continue into its second reading this coming Wednesday, the 12. And essentially - this isn't made clear in the statement - but essentially, it will most likely go up for a final vote by mid-July, when the Legislature Council - so the parliament here - breaks for the summer.
MARTIN: That's Mary Hui. She covers Asia for the global business news site Quartz. We reached her in Hong Kong.
Mary, thank you so much for talking with us.
HUI: Thank you, Michel.
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