A Hong Kong opposition lawmaker was granted bail on Thursday after being charged over violence that erupted at Yuen Long MTR station last year, as the chief of police denied the force was trying to rewrite the facts behind one of the most controversial episodes of the anti-government protests.
The Democratic Party’s Lam Cheuk-ting and six others appeared in West Kowloon Court to face one joint count of rioting. Lam was at the station when a group of white-clad men armed with steel rods and rattan canes attacked commuters and protesters on July 21 last year.
Principal Magistrate Peter Law Tak-chuen granted them bail but required they regularly report to police, stay at their addresses and hand over their travel documents. No pleas were required as the magistrate adjourned the case to October 12 for police to conduct further investigation and seek legal advice. Senior assistant director of public prosecutions Anthony Chau Tin-hang said the Department of Justice suspected at least 20 others connected to the attack remained at large.
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Lam also appeared at a later hearing to face one count stemming from a protest outside Tuen Mun Police Station on July 6 last year. He is accused of intending to pervert the course of justice, along with Democratic Party colleague Ted Hui Chi-fung and two others. No pleas were entered and all were granted bail.
Lam and Hui appeared on the ground floor of the court building after spending 36 hours in detention, as more than 100 supporters, dressed in black, cheered and chanted: “Shame on political prosecution.”
Lam continued to lash out at authorities, saying: “Not only did they not go after the perpetrators behind July 21 … Instead, they came to arrest me and my friends.”
The arrests have thrust the events at Yuen Long MTR station that night, coming as the anti-government protests rumbled on over last summer, back into the spotlight, with duelling narratives of who is to blame. Video clips taken at the scene show the white-clad men beating up protesters and passengers inside the station, chasing them up an escalator and into train carriages, with officers nowhere in sight. By the time the attack was over in the early morning, 45 people were left with injuries, including a pregnant woman. Police have now made 57 arrests in connection with the incident.
Police Commissioner Chris Tang Ping-keung on Thursday gave additional details about the force’s response time that night and addressed previous remarks by a senior officer who said the footage presented a “lopsided” view of the incident.
“I think we, as the police, we do not have any intent to write or rewrite any history,” Tang said. “History will judge itself. Someone will unleash that it is an indiscriminate attack. Some will say it is on equal footing. I think we should focus on evidence and facts. We should not comment too much on other issues.”
After Lam and 12 others were arrested on Wednesday over the clash, Senior Superintendent Chan Tin-chu of the New Territories North regional headquarters said the public had relied on “lopsided, twisted, misleading and flawed” online footage to form an incorrect view of the incident.
Both sides had equally relied on force, Chan said, as he questioned the accuracy of describing what took place as “an indiscriminate attack”.
His account appeared to be at odds with a study by the Independent Police Complaints Council. Its report said that “the people dressed in white jumped over the ticket gates into the paid area to attack those in black outfits” as the verbal abuse between the two sides escalated at 11.02pm.
The people in black “retreated” upwards to the platform and into train compartments. “The people dressed in white attacked the people in black outfits inside the train, but alighted as the train departed, thus ending the attack,” the report stated.
Chan said that while police earlier suggested officers arrived 39 minutes after being notified, investigation found it was 18 minutes. But Tang clarified the 18 minutes was the time between when the response teams were internally alerted and when they arrived at the scene. He admitted it took more than 30 minutes for the teams to get there after receiving calls for help, which he said “was not ideal”.
Asked whether the senior officer’s remarks represented official views and were a deviation from the watchdog’s findings, Tang said the force should only make comments based on facts and evidence.
“Any unnecessary remarks would create unwanted misunderstanding and rumours,” he said. “I think they are unnecessary. Commenting on Chan, I think we should focus on factual narratives. Other descriptions may be not needed.”
Zachary Wong Wai-yin, chairman of the Yuen Long District Council, said police had “rewritten the script” about what happened at the station, adding the government would probably use the “new” version going forward.
Wong said it did not matter when police arrived exactly. “The problem is that they had already seen those people holding sticks and pipes but they did not handle it,” he said. “Even if they said they were waiting for backup after the first attacks happened, they still did not return to the scene when a second round of attacks started.”
Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung and Zoe Low
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong protests: police chief denies force trying to ‘rewrite history’ after senior officer calls views on MTR station attack lopsided
- Hong Kong protests: anger mounts as police are accused of trying to rewrite white-shirt mob attacks in Yuen Long with arrest of opposition lawmaker
- Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam dismisses veiled criticism from cabinet colleague that power causes negative impact on individuals
- Hong Kong police detain six more men linked to Yuen Long attack on July 21 last year, bringing the total number arrested to 43