By Jennifer Creery & Tom Grundy
Anger against the MTR Corporation and police reached boiling point on Friday, with stations vandalised, tear gas deployed and a knife attack occurring during a night of chaos in Mong Kok.
Throughout the afternoon, crowds thronged Prince Edward station demanding answers over a police clearance operation on August 31. Baton-wielding officers stormed the station’s platform last Saturday, making arrests, deploying pepper spray and leaving several injured.
The railway operator on Friday closed Prince Edward MTR station at around 5:15pm citing safety concerns, after hundreds refused to leave the concourse until security footage of the night in question was released.
As there was little media presence within the station during the incident, netizens have since circulated an unverified rumour that there were deaths during the mass arrest.
The allegation has been denied by both the Hong Kong government and the force, but many gathered on Friday suspected a cover-up as floral tributes built up around the station exits.
The MTR Corporation has faced criticism for failing to release surveillance video of the station’s interior. The company has cited privacy concerns but said on Friday it would keep the relevant footage for three years despite normally only doing so for 28 days.
Bernice Cheung, a 30-year-old construction worker, told HKFP that she brought white flowers, usually given at funerals, to the sit-in on Friday as an appeal to the rail operator.
“We can’t prove it, but we think that maybe there are people inside [the station] who were killed,” she said. “So we are very afraid and all we can do is stand here and request the MTR to provide the CCTV record to us to let us know what actually happened that day.”
Jo Yeung, a 40-year-old nurse, told HKFP that she believed the police must be held accountable for “indiscriminately” attacking civilians last Saturday.
“Why are we so angry? Because we can’t get any information about that night,” she said, adding that she feared the worst because of how few reporters and first-aiders there were on the night.
“Actually, the police now are like gangsters, they hit Hong Kong people for no reason. That’s why we are so angry, because the police [are] out of control. There’s been a drastic change in the past three months,” she said.
Night of unrest
As the night wore on, the MTR closed Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei stations amid vandalism by protesters.
Ticketing machines and turnstiles were smashed up in Mong Kok station.
At roughly 9:20pm, officers in riot gear deployed multiple rounds of tear gas and bean bags around Nathan Road to clear the hundreds of protesters who had gathered outside Mong Kok police station, above the closed station.
Riot police, including the Special Tactical Squad known as the “raptors,” managed to push the crowd southwards, where multiple roadblocks were set alight, sending thick plumes of smoke into the air.
Shops closed as protesters shifted southwards and reconvened at the junction of Argyle Street.
Fewer than two dozen riot police were then faced with over 100 angry protesters and residents, who jeered and forced them to retreat down Argyle Street
At around 10:50pm, they fired tear gas into the crowd after several threw umbrellas at them.
As protesters moved back to Nathan Road, several ran a block southwards with first aiders in tow in response to an apparent knife attack. HKFP noted a meat cleaver abandoned at the scene, with two men and one woman being treated for cuts.
Firefighters were called to an apartment stairwell on Canton Road where the wooden door to the flat of the alleged attacker had been broken. Bloodstains were seen across the lobby, Apple Daily reported.
After 11pm, protesters began vandalising the exits of Yau Ma Tei MTR station, destroying and blacking out the corporation’s logo using spray paint.
Masked demonstrators smashed windows of each station exit, shattered the fluorescent lamps inside.
Some destroyed CCTV cameras, as others scrawled graffiti demanding the MTR release the footage from the August 31 incident.
At 12:10am, dozens surrounded a moving vehicle and began smashing its windows after they said the driver had attempted to drive into protesters.
Riot police swept in after midnight, securing Nathan Road as protesters fled towards Hung Hom.
In a statement released shortly before 11pm, the government condemned the protesters as radical and violent, saying: “Police are using appropriate force to conduct a dispersal operation, and warn the protestors to stop all illegal acts and leave immediately.”
Pro-democracy lawmaker Au Nok-hin said on Friday evening that he was assisting someone in filing a lawsuit against the MTRC at the Small Claims Tribunal. The individual, who was present at Prince Edward station during the police raid, will seek monetary compensation for the psychological harm suffered, Au said.
Au added that the court case may provide a legal basis to order the MTRC to disclose its CCTV tapes from that night.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Wednesday that the government would withdraw a controversial extradition bill, which would have allowed case-by-case fugitive transfers to China, after almost 14 consecutive weeks of protests. The unrest has evolved into sometimes violent displays of dissent over Beijing’s encroachment, democracy, alleged police brutality, surveillance and other community grievances.
But the decision has done little to quell widespread anger, with protests scheduled for the weekend ahead including an airport transportation “stress test” on Saturday.