A murder suspect whose proposed deportation to Taiwan was a catalyst for massive anti-government protests in Hong Kong was released from prison Wednesday, but despite saying he wants to face justice will remain in the city for now.
Months of increasingly violent pro-democracy demonstrations in the financial hub were sparked by protests against a now-cancelled extradition law which would have allowed suspects to be extradited to various destinations -- including authoritarian mainland China.
The law's proposal was prompted by the case of Hong Konger Chan Tong-kai, 20, who is wanted in Taiwan for the 2018 murder of his pregnant girlfriend, Poon Hiu-wing.
He was released from a maximum security prison Wednesday after spending 18 months in custody after convictions on money laundering charges related to cash and valuables he took from his girlfriend before fleeing to Hong Kong.
Chan apologised Wednesday for the great "pain and agony" he had caused Poon's family, saying he hoped his decision to surrender would offer them some relief.
"I am willing to surrender myself... and go back to Taiwan to face the trial and serve the sentence," he said.
He also apologised for being a catalyst for the huge protests that have wracked Hong Kong for months.
"As for the society and Hong Kongers, I could only (say) I'm sorry," he said, adding that he hoped to be forgiven and start life afresh.
However, Chan will not leave Hong Kong for Taiwan yet and is a free man.
"Our original plan was that I would accompany him to Taiwan," said Reverend Peter Koon, who frequently visited Chan in prison, adding that he would have been sent directly from custody to the city's airport.
The plan was aborted, however, when Taiwanese authorities said he would not be allowed to enter the self-ruled island as an ordinary visitor.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said Wednesday that Chan could not surrender himself, and needed to be arrested instead.
Taipei had asked to be able to send personnel to Hong Kong to collect Chan -- and some relevant evidence -- but this was rejected by Hong Kong authorities who called the request disrespectful and "totally unacceptable".
Both sides have accused each other of placing politics above justice.
The root of the issue is that despite Hong Kong having its own legal system, Beijing does not want the territory to have any official bilateral relationship with Taiwan -- which it regards as a renegade province to be retaken by force if necessary.
Hong Kong security chief John Lee said Wednesday that having completed his sentence, Chan was now a "free man".
"The government has no right to impose any compulsory measures on him," said Lee, who urged Taiwan not to set up hurdles stopping Chan from turning himself in.
"If justice was not served, Taiwan needs to shoulder all responsibility," he said.
Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Office said Hong Kong's should bear all the consequeces for rejecting their request.