Opposition politicians in Hong Kong have created a task force to look into a mob attack on passengers and protesters at a metro station in July, in their first meeting since local elections last year.
Yuen Long District Council, which is now dominated by pro-democracy parties, set up the group on Tuesday to look into the incident, during which a mob of armed men wearing white T-shirts attacked people inside the town’s MTR station.
However, police opted not to attend the meeting, despite being invited, drawing an angry response from pan-democrat councillors, who accused the force of showing “zero respect” to the council. Anti-government protesters, who were among those attacked, have accused police of being slow to respond to the incident.
“It is ridiculous,” the Democratic Party’s Roy Kwong Chun-yu said. “The police’s absence demonstrates their zero respect – if not disregard – for the district council, which formally requested their attendance.”
In a written statement, police said 37 people had been arrested for their roles in the events of July 21, and seven of those had been charged with rioting.
“It is not appropriate for us to comment further as the incident has entered judicial proceedings,” the force said.
The motion to create the task force was backed by 33 pro-democracy councillors, whose term began at the start of the year. Rural councillors and members of the pro-establishment camp did not vote.
Democratic Alliance councillor Shek King-ching said he was at the station when the attack happened, and saw two passengers with head wounds caused by the mob.
“A task force was what voters had asked for,” he said. “I hope more citizens will come out and share their experiences so we can reconstruct the truth.”
The pro-establishment rural councillors at the meeting did not oppose the idea, but said the scope of the inquiry should be expanded beyond the July 21 incident.
“Some citizens have been attacked on the streets, while protesters have also vandalised shops,” councillor Shum Ho-kit said. “I hope the task force will also look into the violent incidents in Yuen Long.”
That suggestion was dismissed by the council, which elected former student leader Tommy Cheung Sau-yin as the task force’s chairman.
Further motions were also passed at the meeting – including the council calling on the government to hold an independent inquiry into the police’s handling of the civil unrest sweeping the city since last June, and to drop the controversial building of a HK$1.7 billion (US$218 million) footbridge in the district.
In response, the Highways Department said it had no timetable for applying for funding from the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee for the project.
Several district councils, including Kwai Tsing, Sham Shui Po, Tuen Mun, Tai Po, Wan Chai, North, Southern and Yau Tsim Mong, also convened their first meeting on Tuesday, and all pressed the government to respond to the five core demands of protesters, which include an independent probe into the police force’s handling of protests and implementation of universal suffrage.
The pro-democracy bloc, which scored an unprecedented landslide victory in November’s district elections, swept both the chairmanship and vice-chairmanship at these councils with a majority.
Councillors in Tai Po passed a motion to set up a constitutional affairs and security committee to monitor the work of police and the Security Bureau.
In Kwai Tsing, pro-democracy councillors sung the protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong during the meeting, sparking a walkout from their pro-establishment rivals.
Pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, a member of the Basic Law Committee, which advises Beijing, warned that those councillors who sang the anthem might risk violating their statement to uphold the city’s mini-constitution and pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. She said the lyrics challenged the “one country, two systems” principle under which Beijing governs the city.
Meanwhile, speaking ahead of the weekly Executive Council meeting, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor expressed regret that some newly elected councillors had decided to boycott a meeting with Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, Hong Kong’s No 2 official.
“I hope they will change their minds because it’s a briefing for us to give them information and listen to what they have to tell us,” she said.
Some pan-democrats had objected to Lam personally meeting defeated pro-establishment candidates, but sending Cheung to meet them.
Lam said the two meetings were different, and she had met the outgoing councillors to express her appreciation for their support over the past four years.
“I’m happy to find a suitable way to listen to the views of the district councils when I compile the annual policy address,” she added.
Separately, a survey by Chinese University’s Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies found that 78.9 per cent of 708 respondents polled between December 16 and 20 agreed the district council elections in November were “fair and just”. But in-depth analysis found that only 40.4 per cent of those identified themselves as pro-establishment shared the sentiment, while 50.9 per cent disagreed.
The pro-democracy bloc bagged almost 90 per cent of the seats and took control of all but one of Hong Kong’s 18 district councils in the November elections.
Additional reporting by Natalie Wong