Hong Kong protesters reel from gang attack, say police turned blind eye
Riot police shoot tear gas while anti-extradition bill protesters take part in a rally at Sheung Wan in Hong Kong, China, 21 July 2019. EFE/EPA/JEROME FAVRE
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (C) speaks to the media regarding the previous day's violence during a press conference in Hong Kong, China, 22 July 2019. EFE/EPA/JEROME FAVRE
An anti-extradition bill protester stands on a tram stop during a rally in Hong Kong, China, July 21, 2019. EPA-EFE/JEROME FAVRE
By Shirley Lau
Hong Kong, Jul 22 (efe-epa).- As a long-time district councilor in Yuen Long, a suburban town considered the wildest district in Hong Kong with a strong presence of gangsters, Zachary Wong is no stranger to thuggishness.
He has had two cars vandalized at different times and his office spray-painted with the Chinese character meaning “kill.” More than once when he ran for elections of Yuen Long’s District Council, he received phone calls telling him to renounce his bid.
All these incidents, he says, were the work of members of Yuen Long’s organized crime syndicates, known as triad societies in Hong Kong, or, simply put, “local mafias.”
Such groups, mostly dominated by men, have been around a long time, way before Hong Kong’s sovereignty was returned to China from Britain in 1997.
Yet never has he imagined the triads would go so far as they did Sunday night and, even more shockingly, that the police would fail in their role to maintain public order when the gangsters wreaked havoc in public.
A marauding mob of men, clad in white shirts and armed with weapons including wooden batons and rattan canes, stormed into the Yuen Long metro station and indiscriminately attacked commuters late at night.
The incident sent shockwaves through the former British colony, as many Hongkongers woke up Monday morning to watch widely circulated video footage on the social media, showing the masked assailants beating passengers inside a train, by an escalator on the train platform and in the concourse area of the train station.
The primary target of the mob were black-clad protesters who had just returned from a large anti-government rally in the city center Sunday afternoon. But they also attacked journalists filming the event, as well as people who happened to cross their path.
The police were conspicuous in their absence in the bloodshed. They received a call for help at around 10.40pm. Seven minutes later, two police officers appeared but left the scene soon. It was only at around 11.20pm that the Police Tactical Unit, which mainly deals with large-scale emergencies, arrived.
By that time, dozens of citizens were already injured and a considerable amount of blood was shed. Forty-five people were injured, including a pregnant woman who was seen in video footage lying on the floor.
The police made no arrest and no white-clad man was stopped or questioned.
At least 45 people have been hospitalized or have sought treatment, according to the Hospital Authority. One person is in critical condition.
“Words fail me,” Wong told Efe Monday morning. “It’s totally unacceptable for the triads to beat up innocent people indiscriminately, and it’s totally unacceptable for the police to turn a blind eye to all that, arriving at the scene after the attacks were over.”
And it was not as if the police had no knowledge of what was to come, Wong pointed out.
According to the district councilor, a day before the anti-government protest Sunday, some social media posts appeared, warning people in Yuen Long against going to the protest or they would be attacked. Wong reported the issue to the police upon seeing those posts.
“I have told the police something might happen on Sunday. They could not have not known something might be up,” he said.
Shortly after 7 pm Sunday, dozens of white-clad men were seen gathered near a shopping mall in Yuen Long, shouting and chasing after people in black tops. In most of the recent wave of anti-government protests roiling Hong Kong since June, triggered by a controversial extradition bill, black has been the dress code.
Wong said he received several phone calls from about five locals telling him about the incident and that they tried to seek police help to no avail.
“One resident rang the police and was told: ‘If you are scared, then don’t go out.’ The police then hung up. Some people decided to call the fire service and an ambulance depot for the injured to receive first aid treatment,” Wong notes.
Stanley Yip, a resident in Tuen Mun, which is another suburban town near Yuen Long, was riding the metro to return home from a dinner with friends when he saw about a dozen white-clad men attacking passengers on the train compartment he was in.
“I saw a girl crying for first aid help for an injured person. [The attackers] looked angry and fierce and they kept swearing. They were all in their 30s to 40s.
“The train stayed on the platform for quite some time. Then the doors finally closed. But then they opened again. Every time they opened, more thugs managed to get in and attacked people.”
John Tse Chun-chung, chief superintendent of the police public relations branch, explained the absence of the police when speaking to hosts of a program on Hong Kong’s Commercial Radio Monday morning.
He said police officers were busy dealing with incidents in Yuen Long during the evening, and that the two policemen who briefly appeared and then left as they decided the situation was too severe for them to deal with. They headed back and asked for the police force to deploy more manpower to the scene.
Although the duo was each equipped with a gun, the metro station was an enclosed space and the use of gun might lead to greater danger.
Hong Kong has been gripped by anti-government protests for the last seven weeks since the city's local leader, Carrie Lam, published plans for new extradition rules that critics said would allow China to target dissidents and human rights activists.
Although the bill has since been scrapped, weekly rallies have morphed into a catch-all pro-democracy movement. EFE-EPA
Armed group attacks protesters in Hong Kong subway, injures 36
Hong Kong, Jul 22 (efe-epa).- A group of men dressed in white and armed with metal rods and sticks attacked dozens of protesters at a Hong Kong subway station overnight, leaving at least 36 injured.
On Sunday night, the mob attacked a group of people at the Yuen Long station who were returning from a pro-democracy protest in the city's downtown area.
One of the injured was reportedly in critical condition.
Democratic Party spokesperson Lam Cheuk-ting, who was also among those injured, told local media that he was attacked by dozens of people whom he described as members of a gang and criticized the police for taking more than an hour to intervene.
The attack by this unidentified group, which took place around midnight, was all over Hong Kong's social media, where videos were shared that appeared to show the brutality of the group's actions.
In these videos, the mob could be seen attacking anyone dressed in a black T-shirt. Black is the color of choice for demonstrators engaged in the pro-democracy protests that have been recently sweeping over Hong Kong.
Outrage among the pro-democracy opposition erupted after images of lawmaker Junius Ho emerged in which he could be seen conversing and taking pictures with the attackers.
Ho denied having anything to do with the attackers.
Over the past seven weeks, Hong Kong has been the stage for demonstrations that began as a protest against a contentious extradition bill that, according to lawyers and human rights activists, would allow the extradition to mainland China of fugitives accused of certain crimes.
The bill's opponents said that the new law could mean that local activists, critical journalists and dissidents in Hong Kong could be sent to mainland China for trial. Its defenders, meanwhile, claimed that it merely sought to fill a legal vacuum, as no formal extradition treaties exist between Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China.
The bill was scrapped following a rise in tensions after the mass protests engulfed Hong Kong's government district.
However, the protesters' demands, which were initially focused on stopping the extradition bill, have morphed into catch-all calls for democratic mechanisms to be implemented in the Special Administrative Region.
A former British colony, Hong Kong passed to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, although it still retains a degree of independence from Beijing.
According to the handover deal between London and Beijing, this political system – which includes certain freedoms not recognized in mainland China – must be preserved until 2047. EFE-EPA