A murder suspect whose case led to mass street protests in Hong Kong walked free from jail on Wednesday as the city’s government squabbled with Taiwan, where he is accused of murdering his girlfriend, over how to handle a promised voluntary surrender.
Chan Tong-kai, a Hong Kong citizen, was accused of murdering his girlfriend in Taiwan last year before fleeing back to the southern Chinese city.
Chan, wearing a navy blue shirt and red backpack, bowed and apologised to the family of his ex-girlfriend and the public as he left the prison in Hong Kong’s rural Sai Kung district after serving 29 months for money laundering.
He said he had made an “unforgivable mistake”.
“I am willing, for my impulsive actions and things I did wrong, to surrender myself, to return to Taiwan to plead guilty and stand trial,” he said.
Chan also said he would turn himself in to the authorities in Taiwan, but declined to say when.
While Chan has offered to surrender himself voluntarily, Hong Kong and Taiwan have argued over the next steps.
Embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam held up Chan’s case as an example of why an extradition bill was needed. Such a bill would allow suspects to be sent from Hong Kong to the mainland, Taiwan and Macau.
The former British colony has been reeling from five months of unrest that was triggered by the proposed extradition bill but which has now evolved into a pro-democracy movement.
The government has announced it will withdraw the bill but the protests have not stopped. The city’s legislature is due to withdraw it formally on Wednesday.
Hong Kong authorities said on Wednesday Chan should be free to go to Taiwan and surrender himself.
‘Crossing legal jurisdictions’
However, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement it was “unbelievable” that Chan could be expected to take a flight to Taiwan by himself, “completely ignoring the safety of passengers on the same flights in order to serve the political arrangement of a ‘surrender'”.
It said Taiwan had repeatedly asked for legal cooperation.
“We are solemnly telling the Hong Kong government that you have to take full responsibility for all bitter consequences,” the council statement said.
Taiwan has also said it wanted to send officers to Hong Kong to escort Chan back to the self-ruled island on his release, a move the Hong Kong government described as a disrespectful and unacceptable attempt to cross legal jurisdictions.
Lam reluctantly agreed to withdraw the extradition bill two and a half months after anti-government protests escalated in June, although its formal withdrawal is unlikely to end the unrest.
Protesters are angry about what they see as Beijing ‘encroaching’ on Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” formula enshrined during the handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
That formula allows the city wide-ranging freedoms not available on the mainland, such as an independent judiciary.
The extradition bill was seen as the latest move by Beijing to ‘erode those freedoms’. China has denied such claims and accuses foreign countries of fomenting trouble.
(SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES / ACCESSED: AL JAZEERA)