Hong Kong Protests: Masked Attackers Beat Commuters Whilst Police ‘Stood By’

Pro-democracy activists and lawmakers in Hong Kong have claimed that the police stood by, unacceptably slow to act, whilst men dressed in white attacked commuters on Sunday evening leaving 45 people admitted to hospital with one critically injured. A video emerging from Hong Kong media shows men in masks entering a subway station chasing passengers and beating them with rods – those beaten include a pregnant woman and children. Several pro-democracy demonstrators were injured during the attack whilst travelling back from a large anti-government rally, with police only arriving after the assailants left and upon leaving the attackers returned yet again with the public left unprotected. Several damning critiques have been made concerning the police’s action: as anti-government demonstrators faced violence from police with tear gas and rubber bullets,  ‘thugs’ were able to injure a large number of commuters with police failing to protect them.

A witness to the event sobbed whilst describing what had happened in Yuen Long subway station, in a clip circulating online she said: “They beat people in the carriage indiscriminately whoever they were, even people who were returning home from work … Some men were shielding us. They didn’t fight back otherwise we would have been beaten even worse. They beat even women and children.”

Commenting on the events of Sunday, the organizers of Sunday’s march, Civil Human Rights Front, said: “While the police were unnecessarily tear-gassing protesters … on the other side in Yuen Long there were real thugs chasing and beating passersby, journalists, and lawmakers. This is outrageous.”

Pro-democracy lawmaker Ray Chan tweeted: “Hong Kong has 1 of the world’s highest cop to population ratio. Where were @hkpoliceforce?”

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive too told reporters the gang attacks were ‘shocking’ yet also condemned protestors actions earlier on Sunday, which included the defacing of China’s main representative office in the city.

The violence behind these attacks are abhorrent, and the police’s inaction over the attack combined with increasing concern over their ‘escalating’ abuse of power has led to tensions and outrage only increasing amongst pro-democracy supporters. Some claim thugs have been hired in previous pro-democracy protests in 2014 and argued the same had been done here, with the attackers potentially from southern China where authorities are known to hire men to intimidate the public. Video footage has emerged of pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho shaking hands with the men in white and giving them a ‘thumbs up’. He later denied a connection with them, arguing he was only responding to ‘their greetings’.

In the weeks leading up to the events of Sunday, Hong Kong has seen a wave of mass protests that initially began over an extradition deal with mainland China that has since been suspended. Yet, protests have evolved and taken on wider demands: one of which includes investigations into police behaviour. Commentators have argued the events in Yuen Long subway station and the police’s response may be the focus of another protest.

Fueling the protests, under an agreed one country, two systems framework Hong Kong is supposedly meant to retain a high level of autonomy from mainland China but many say that Hong Kong’s freedoms are quickly disappearing with the original extradition deal an example of this. And so, amongst protestors demands, centrally they call for democratic reforms that would give Hong Kong the ability to directly elect leaders. Chinese media has been quick to slam the protests in Hong Kong which clearly challenge Beijing’s authority, yet protestors have vowed to continue until their demands are met.

The violence, clear police mistreatment of citizens, and continuing repression that is occurring in Hong Kong must be condemned; whilst the protestors valid fight for political freedoms should be supported and applauded. However, commentators are concerned about the way in which the protests will play out: Victoria Hull, a political scientist who is from Hong Kong but teaches at Notre Dame said, “I don’t see this ending. It looks like it’s just going to escalate … it’s almost becoming ungovernable”.

Rosie Latchford