- South China Morning Post/ Winson Wong
There was chaos again on Wednesday night at Yuen Long MTR station as protesters confronted police while marking one month since a mob rampage that left dozens injured.
While thousands of mostly masked, black-clad protesters started by holding a peaceful sit-in at the station, smaller groups were out to make trouble. Some put up barriers on Yuen Long Kau Hui Road and hurled abuse at riot police on standby at the nearby village of Tung Tau Tsuen.
Police chased them back to the station, where they ran in and set off fire extinguishers in a late-night stand-off. They set up barriers using rubbish bins and fire sand buckets while police remained on the footbridge outside.
The MTR announced that trains would not stop at Yuen Long station while special trains would be arranged for those already at the station.
The chaos continued for hours, but police did not charge into the station and eventually were nowhere to be seen. With no one to confront, the protesters gradually dispersed by themselves, leaving a mess for the MTR to clean up.
The protesters have rejected an offer by the city’s leader to set up a platform for dialogue to end nearly three months of civil unrest, but sources said Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor would push ahead and hold the first brainstorming session on Saturday with around 20 political and community leaders.
Protesters were in no mood for any of that as they put up posters all over the railway station and held up placards reading, “lest we forget the Yuen Long attack”, and “oppose police-triad collusion”, a reference to allegations that officers deliberately turned a blind eye to the violence on the night of July 21 because they were in cahoots with gangsters involved.
The protesters filled almost the entire station concourse and spilled out into the connecting shopping centre.
At least 45 people were injured in the unprecedented violence at the station a month ago, when a rampaging gang of white-clad men indiscriminately attacked commuters and bystanders, their targets seemingly protesters returning from a mass rally against the now-abandoned extradition bill.
Police have arrested 28 people for illegal assembly in relation to the late-night attack, but no one has been charged so far.
While some protesters chanted anti-police and revolutionary slogans on Wednesday night, others reminded them that it was meant to be a silent protest.
At around 8pm, protesters stood silently, each covering his or her right eye to express their anger over a severe eye injury suffered by a young woman at a protest outside Tsim Sha Tsui Police Station on August 11. Protesters say she was hit by a police beanbag round, but the force is not taking the blame pending an investigation.
Yuen Long resident Benjamin Tsang, a 21-year old university student, accused police of selectively enforcing the law.
“I am disappointed. No prosecution has been made against the mob over the past month while nearly 50 protesters in Sheung Wan were charged with rioting within hours,” he said, referring to clashes on July 28.
Yoyo Au Yeung, a social worker in her early thirties, said the Yuen Long attack had changed her perception of the police force.
“I am so disappointed. They are public servants and are supposed to serve citizens. But they were late for 39 minutes when citizens were attacked,” she said.
The incident was regarded as one of the turning points of the campaign against the unpopular bill, which expanded into a citywide movement against the government and police.
The force earlier dismissed accusations that officers had colluded with triads, saying weeks of mass rallies and protest violence had put a serious strain on manpower and resources.
They said there was not enough manpower in Yuen Long as their officers from the Emergency Unit were busy dealing with fights, assaults and a fire in the district before the MTR violence broke out, as well as the fallout from the mass rally that night on Hong Kong Island.
At a police press conference on Wednesday, Senior Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah of the organised crime and triad bureau, said officers were working with the Department of Justice to find “suitable charges” to lay against the Yuen Long attackers.
“We are taking action, in the hope of making the charges better and more reflective of the situation, so as to increase the chances of successful convictions,” Li said.
He did not say if those arrested would face more serious charges.
Kong Wing-cheung, senior superintendent with the police’s public relations branch, said officers in the railway division had real-time access to security camera footage of MTR stations, but they did not need the footage on July 21.
“I think we didn’t need the MTR’s CCTV, we received emergency calls and learned about the incident from news footage,” Kong said.
- South China Morning Post/ Winson Wong
Earlier media investigations, however, revealed police vans passed through Fung Yau Street North in Yuen Long, where a suspicious group of white-clad men had gathered, but took no action.
At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon organised by civilians in support of the anti-extradition bill movement, police were criticised for their handling of the July 21 attack, including the lack of progress on prosecutions.
They also said some individuals appearing in videos circulating online had not been arrested despite the footage showing them taking part in the attack.