Hong Kong police have come under criticism for charging protesters in a mass transit station in Yuen Long, where some were resting or preparing to leave after clashes with police on Saturday.
In scenes that protesters and critics said were reminiscent of an attack on commuters by suspected triad gangs last week, police fired tear gas and rushed into the station shortly before 10pm. The team, a special tactical unit, pepper sprayed and beat people with batons, causing panic. Some protesters attempted to fight back with fire extinguishers. Bloodied gauze and drops of blood could be seen on the station floor.
The criticism comes as the city prepared on Sunday for its third consecutive day of mass civil dissent, following Saturday’s rally in Yuen Long and an 11-hour-sit-in at the Hong Kong airport on Friday.
Hong Kong’s hospital authority said late on Saturday that 23 people had sought medical help, two in a serious condition. Police have arrested 11 people on suspicion of various charges including unlawful assembly, possession of an offensive weapon, and assault.
Images have begun circulating online of the elite tactical squad rushing into the station next to photos of a group of men in white who stormed the same station the previous Sunday. The suspected triads had chased commuters, some of whom were protesters returned from an anti-government demonstration that day, beating them with wooden and metal rods.
“In action there was no difference,” said Simon Cheng, 34, a Yuen Long resident. “But psychologically it is worse because they are government approved and have deadly force,” he said.
In a press briefing in the early hours of Saturday, the police said protesters were throwing fire extinguishers from a bridge at officers below. “We entered the station and got the scene under control,” said senior superintendent Yolanda Yu Hoi-kwan of the police’s public relations department.
Officers were also criticised for using tear gas in residential areas of Yuen Long, including near nursing homes. Liu said the police had fired near residents but no such homes were affected. “We also reminded elderly homes to shut their windows,” she said.
Hong Kong has been plunged into political crisis as citizens have taken to the streets every weekend for almost two months to demonstrate against their government.
Demonstrators prepared on Sunday to hold a rally in central Hong Kong to condemn the police, who critics say have used increasingly heavy-handed tactics on protesters. Organisers had originally planned to march from central Hong Kong to a western district, where police had fired tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters last weekend.
The police did not grant a permit for the march – the second time authorities have rejected a protest request – following a ban on the Saturday rally in Yuen Long. Protesters fear authorities will adopt this line more in the future.
“It is very likely they are going to abolish the freedom of assembly. So we are asking people to come out because it may be the last time that we are going to have a peaceful and lawful protest in Hong Kong,” said one of the organisers of the rally.
“I’m sure that people are exhausted. It’s already been two months since the first protest … but I guess people are not going to give up or rest until we legitimately have freedom and democracy,” she said. “It will be a long way to go but everyone in Hong Kong will do what it takes.”