The protests in Hong Kong may have turned lethal at the end of August, when police officers clashed with demonstrators in the Prince Edward subway station, striking people indiscriminately with batons and raiding trains to make arrests.
After many Hongkongers who took part in the day’s events on August 31 claimed that several people were reportedly killed in the violence, Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) published a number of screenshots from surveillance footage to refute the claims.
But there are growing public allegations that the screenshots deliberately omitted crucial scenes, which could reveal tragic and highly sensitive truths at a time when millions of Hongkongers fear for the future of their city in the shadow of an increasingly aggressive mainland Chinese regime.
As the riot police stormed MTR trains, multiple people were hit with great force on the head and shown to be bleeding heavily. Prince Edward Station soon announced that in light of the “serious incident” that had taken place, service had been suspended and passengers were made to board another train transferring them to Shek Kip Mei Station, which is located to the north.
In the days that followed, people began claiming that multiple protesters had lost their lives in the police violence, prompting Hongkongers to lay flowers at the entrance of Prince Edward Station and pay their respects to the alleged victims.
Should the claims be true, then the deaths would mark a dangerous escalation in the Hong Kong protests, which began in the spring over concerns about a Chinese extradition bill that would allow for suspects in Hong Kong to be tried by mainland courts controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.
The protests grew larger as the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese governments refused to back down on the extradition bill. By mid-June, over 1 million people had joined the demonstrations, and the protesters began demanding democratic reforms.
Hong Kong, which was returned to China from British colonial rule in 1997, has never been a democracy, but enjoyed rule of law modeled on the British system and was guaranteed a high degree of political autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework. But in practice, the Hong Kong government has been increasingly brought under Beijing’s sway, leading to mounting popular unrest over the years.
In the course of the protest movement, several people are confirmed to have committed suicide, and many more heavily injured in clashes with police or triad members. But so far, there have been no confirmed fatalities at the hands of the authorities — an important detail in an environment where fears loom that the events of June 1989, when thousands of protesters were slaughtered by the Chinese military in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, could be recreated in Hong Kong.
The police raids at Prince Edward Station occurred around 11 p.m. on August 31 and lasted for around two hours. Following public pressure, and after calls by some legislators that it should release CCTV footage of the incident, MTR gave in 10 days later, on September 10.
However, saying that “passengers’ privacy concerns must be taken into account,” the rail company only provided still images. MTR’s Chief of Operations Sammy Wong claimed that since three of the surveillance cameras were damaged, footage may not be “comprehensive.” Further, the crucial timeframe in which most of the beatings and arrests took place was completely omitted from the images given by MTR.
Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, criticized the inadequacy of the stills. “The MTR will have to release a complete CCTV video to be able to clear up the doubts,” she said.
Over 70 percent of MTR’s shares are owned by the Hong Kong government. Suspicions abound that the company has colluded with the authorities on several occasions to place protesters in dangerous situations. Several violent incidents related to the protest movement have occurred in MTR stations, such as the July Yuen Long MTR station attacks, when white-clad men wielding bamboo canes and other weapons attacked anyone wearing black, the preferred color of demonstrators.
According to a witness surnamed Huy who spoke with the Hong Kong edition of The Epoch Times, the escalator in the Prince Edward Station inexplicably turned off during the incident on August 31, making it harder for people to exit the station when police stormed the underground.
Video shot by witnesses at and around the scene shows bloodied individuals being taken to the hospital. At the Lai Chi Kok station, seven ambulances arrived to evacuate injured passengers in the early morning of September 1.
Locals provide testimony
On September 5, Ms. Leung, the director of Kwun Tong Community, posted a message on Hong Kong’s social news website LIHKG Forum — often referred to as Hong Kong’s version of Reddit:
“A neighbor of mine came over to tell me that police caused six deaths at Prince Edward station,” Leung said. “He learned the information from his friend working at a mortuary service who told him that all these six people died from broken necks, and apparently the police twisted their necks harshly 90 degrees from behind to cause the deaths.”
A video circulating on Chinese social media and uploaded to YouTube shows a man and a woman being interviewed by an English-speaking journalist. The woman was leaving funeral offerings at the Prince Edward station when the journalist approached her for an interview.
Visibly emotional, the woman said in Cantonese that her friend died from the violence on Aug. 31. When she tried to console the friend’s parents, she found out that the two elderly people had been placed under house arrest after they went to the mortuary to claim the corpse. “Presently we cannot even reach them by phone!” the woman said, as the man next to her translated her words into English for the journalist.
Many medical professionals staged a sit-in on September 1 to protest against police brutality. One Hong Kong netizen posted on Facebook that doctors and nurses wanted to protest because they are at the frontline of urgent care, and many of them have already learned about the deaths at the train station. The netizen also revealed what a policewoman said to a group of mourners.
On September 1, a large group of Hong Kong medical workers staged a sit-in protest to oppose police brutality, according to The Epoch Times. One netizen describing the events wrote about how a policewoman later hinted at the possibility that people may have died in the violence of Aug. 31.
“On Sept. 6, while a group of protesters was burning joss paper — fake paper money that traditionally burned for the deceased — at the station, a policewoman spilled the beans when she came over to comfort them, saying: ‘I understand that you are mourning those deceased [anti-extradition bill] protesters,’” The Epoch Times reported. According to the netizen, a male policeman who was close by heard what the female officer said and immediately tried to correct her. “There was no death,” he said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, three young people told the Chinese-language Epoch Times that they had lost contact with two friends after the violent incident at Prince Edward station on August 31. “We used to communicate with one another almost every day. Two friends have been missing since August 31. We tried to look for them through several different channels, but no one knows of their whereabouts.”