Chan Tong-kai, a murder suspect wanted in Taiwan, leaves the Pik Uk Correctional Institution in Hong Kong, China, Wednesday. Photo by Jerome Favre/EPA-EFE
Oct. 23 (UPI) -- The Hong Kong government on Wednesday officially withdrew a proposed extradition bill that led to months of protests, violence and other types of unrest in the Chinese territory.
Secretary for Security John Lee announced the bill's withdrawal at the Legislative Council following its second reading, which was originally scheduled for last week but canceled after the meeting was interrupted by protesters.
The controversial Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation, as it was officially known, would have allowed for some fugitives from Chinese law to be extradited from semi-autonomous Hong Kong to face Beijing courts.
While the Hong Kong government argued the measure was to prevent the state from becoming a safe haven for criminals, activists feared it could be used against political dissidents and eroded freedoms in the region.
The bill received its first reading in April and set off mass protests starting in early June that brought the region to a standstill, prompting Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to shelve the bill in an attempt to maintain order. However, the move came after protesters also began demonstrating against police brutality, evolving the movement into a wider pro-democracy push.
Also Wednesday, Hong Kong resident Chan Tong-kai -- a suspect in a Taiwanese homicide case that was the catalyst behind the extradition bill -- was released from a Hong Kong jail following 18 months in police custody. Chan told reporters he was willing to surrender himself to Taiwan, where he is wanted for the death last year of his pregnant girlfriend, Poon Hiu-wing.
"I am willing, for my impulsive act and things I did wrong, to surrender myself to Taiwan to face sentencing," Chan told reporters outside the maximum-security prison, adding, "I hope this can make her family feel slightly relieved and [Poon] can rest in peace."
According to Hong Kong court documents, Chan told police he strangled Poon on Valentine's Day 2018 after learning the child she carried was not his. He fled to Hong Kong and was ultimately arrested for using her credit cards. He was sentenced to 29 months in prison in April on money laundering charges, but wasn't tried in Poon's death because Hong Kong lacks jurisdiction and an extradition agreement with Taiwan. His sentence was reduced for good behavior.
Taiwan had wanted to send its law enforcement to retrieve Chan after his release, but Hong Kong condemned the suggestion as a "disrespect to Hong Kong's jurisdictional power."