Hong Kong (26/09). At September 22, protesters created a makeshift barricade on Yuen Wo Road and set objects on fire before riot police stepped in. Police raised a black flag, warning they may use tear gas.
Protesters initially gathered at the Sha Tin New Town Plaza mall at around noon on Sunday, following a call for people to go “shopping” and hinder businesses at the mall which they deemed to be pro-government.
They targeted brands under Maxim’s conglomerate, including three Chinese restaurants, Starbucks, Simplylife and COVA by putting stickers on their windows and logos. Other brands being targeted included mainland brands Huawei and Heytea. Best Mart 360, whose boss was accused of having links to Fujian groups who beat up protesters in recent weeks, was also a target.
Following that, protesters turned their attention to Sha Tin MTR station. They spray-painted ticket machines and used tools to damage entrance gates.
How Hong Kong’s once-respected MTR fell afoul of protesters. Hong Kong’s metro system has long been lauded for its world-class efficiency, affordability and enviable safety record.
In the early days of the city’s summer of dissent, sparked by an ill-fated extradition bill, demonstrators would form long, snaking queues for MTR ticket machines and even leave cash for others to buy single journey tickets to avoid having their trips traced on their Octopus cards. Five days after police fired tear gas inside Kwai Fong MTR station on August 11, choking it with smoke, members of the public turned up with washcloths to wipe down soiled surfaces.
Now, 16 weeks on from the start of the movement, battered turnstiles and shattered windows have become the norm. Dozens of stations have been vandalised with demonstrators started fires at a Wan Chai MTR station exit last Sunday, while others piled on rubbish by the entrance after police closed off inside access.
The rail operator made the unprecedented decision to seal off Lam Tin, Kwun Tong, Ngau Tau Kok and Kowloon Bay MTR stations on August 24 “as a prudent measure,” ahead of an authorised march against smart lampposts and other grievances.
The move prompted organiser Ventus Lau to blast the transport provider as inconveniencing residents and commuters: “I strongly condemn the MTR for impeding the public from attending a lawful protest, and affecting regular civilians going to work in East Kowloon,” he said.
The corporation told RTHK that it had called the police after seeing that the gates to Kowloon Bay station had been vandalised. “The police were arranged to take the train to deal with the situation in Kowloon Bay because the traffic conditions at road-level were not suitable,” it said.
As protester anger against the MTRC grew, a court on August 30 granted the corporation an injunction which prevents “unlawful and wilful acts on the railway.” The order was an attempt to prevent protesters from besieging and vandalising its stations. But in the weeks that followed, it did little to deter them.
The MTRC was plunged into another controversy on August 31 when, after a long night of police-protester cat and mouse games, elite officers charged into train carriages at Prince Edward MTR station, beating and pepper-spraying those inside. Fifty-three people were arrested, as journalists and medical workers were ushered out of the facility.
On September 1, trains to Lantau’s Chek Lap Kok island and along the Tung Chung Line were suspended as protesters formed roadblocks to stymie traffic around the airport as part of a transport “stress test.” With transport connections severed, thousands were forced to set off on foot for hours, blocking vehicles behind them as they left the airport.
‘Treasure and safeguard’
In an open letter on September 8, MTRC Chairman Rex Auyeung Pak-Kuen and CEO Dr Jacob Kam Chak-pui condemned what they described as malicious attacks against stations, saying: “At this crucial moment, we wish all sectors of the community could treasure and safeguard this railway network which has been carrying our collective memories over the past few decades. Please allow us to honour our commitment and continue to provide our fellow citizens with safe and reliable railway service.”
As anger towards the MTRC mounts and its stations increasingly become protest flashpoints, the future of the public’s derailed relationship with the transport provider heads in an uncertain direction. Whether grievances are political or simply a result of the inconvenience caused by cutting off swathes of the city during protests, a long journey lies ahead for Hong Kong’s war-weary railway.
“Five key demands, not one less.”
The demonstration that was triggered by the Extradition Bill (RUU) still shows no signs of abating even though the Hong Kong government has taken positive steps to suspend the bill.
Aside from the withdrawal of the bill, the protesters had also demanded an independent probe into the use of force by police; amnesty for arrested protesters; a halt to categorising the protests as riots; and the implementation of universal suffrage.
In a statement issued through Telegram – an encrypted messaging app popular with protesters – a group calling itself Guardians of Hong Kong accused the government of buying time to crush the movement by meeting one of the easiest demands.
Sources: HKFP & CNN
Photo: inmediaHK.net, USP, RTHK