HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong activists have raised more than HK$5 million (£502,109) in a crowdfunding campaign to take out newspaper ads in a bid to get a controversial extradition bill on the agenda at the G20 summit.
Millions have taken to the streets of the former British colony this month to protest against the bill, that would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial, plunging the city into political crisis and posing a grave challenge to Communist Party rulers in Beijing.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam suspended the bill in a dramatic climbdown, saying she had heard the protesters “loud and clear”, but the activists are demanding the bill be scrapped altogether.
“We now need your support: get our voices heard at your governments and consulates; let freedom prevail at the upcoming G20 summit and beyond,” a draft of an ad that appeared on the group’s gogetfunding.com page said.
“We can be saved, if you act now,” said the ad, which was signed Hong Kong Citizens, Vanguards of Freedom.
G20 leaders meet in the Japanese city of Osaka this week.
A senior western diplomatic source who declined to be named, said while Hong Kong wasn’t on the official agenda, it was still expected to be raised at the summit by a number of countries with stakes in the city.
“Hong Kong is important to the international community ... and there are still concerns there that need to be addressed,” the source said.
Protesters plan a silent march on Wednesday to foreign consulates in the Asian financial hub to raise awareness among world leaders ahead of the summit, while the crowdfund campaign confirmed ads would appear in five newspapers.
The campaign is certain to rile Beijing, after Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Jun said China would not allow the G20 nations to discuss Hong Kong.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, since when it has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including freedom to protest and an independent judiciary.
But many accuse China of increased meddling over the years, obstructing democratic reforms, interfering with elections and of being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers who specialised in works critical of Chinese leaders.
Opponents of the extradition bill fear it would put them at the mercy of Chinese courts, controlled by the Communist Party, with a record of arbitrary detentions, torture and other human rights violations.
More than 22,000 people had raised HK$5.5 million within hours of the crowdfunding campaign’s launch, exceeding a HK$3 million target.
Any money left over from the ad campaign would go towards funding of activists arrested during the protests, the group said.
There were chaotic scenes when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters near the heart of the financial centre, which was gripped by 79 days of pro-democracy “Umbrella” protests in 2014.
The Civil Human Rights Front, organizer of this month’s protests, is gearing up for an annual march on July 1, the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to Beijing. The group has called on people to turn out in force.
Beijing has said it supports Lam’s decision to suspend the extradition bill, but has been angered by criticism from Western capitals, including Washington, about the legislation.
Additional reporting by Jessie Pang in HONG KONG; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Kevin Yao in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie