Tuen Mun resident Rachel Smyth has never joined any of the extradition-bill protests which have gripped Hong Kong since June. But on Sunday night the 40-year-old English teacher ended up with a bleeding head and bruises on her body inflicted by the batons of riot police at an MTR station.
That evening, the riot squad appeared in a number of neighbourhoods – including Siu Hong, where Smyth lives – after anti-government protesters defied a court injunction and paralysed transport routes to Hong Kong International Airport.
Some officers went to Central Pier to intercept young passengers, while others conducted spot checks in Tin Shui Wai, close to Siu Hong.
Smyth, a Hong Kong-born Australian citizen, said she was returning home from Central by train after having coffee, wearing a black T-shirt, as she often does, and saw at least 20 riot officers at Siu Hong station at about 10.30pm. Facilities in the station had been damaged but there were no protesters around.
Out of curiosity and concern, she said, she stayed on a staircase that led to Siu Hong Court to see what was going on. About 50 to 60 residents were also there, chanting at officers, urging them to leave to avoid further unrest in their neighbourhood.
A policeman told her that officers were at the station to protect the public and arrest protesters who had earlier vandalised the station.
She said that although some people there did shout slogans such as “die and go to hell” and hurled obscenities at police, most did not. She did not join in the abuse, she said, nor did anyone engage in any physical action.
At about 11.45pm, police suddenly charged towards them and ran after people on the staircase, pepper-spraying them. Three or four officers pushed her to the ground, she said.
“If I hadn’t been careful, I would have just slipped and rolled down,” Smyth said. “They started beating my head, at least five times [on my whole body] … my head actually started bleeding. I saw the blood splattering on the steps.
“Everything happened within 20 seconds. It wasn’t long, but it was very violent.”
Smyth’s allegations came after police had been accused of going after passengers indiscriminately while chasing protesters at Prince Edward MTR station on Saturday night.
The police were so angry and they just used me as a way to release their anger. That’s what it felt like
The shocking scenes have sparked concern and fuelled calls for an independent inquiry into accusations of excessive force by police officers handling the protests.
A witness had previously said officers pepper-sprayed a resident in the face, while riot police hit them with batons and stepped on them as they walked down from the top of an escalator.
But the force had defended its officers, saying they only targeted radicals who had changed their clothes after trashing the stations and brawling with other passengers.
According to Smyth’s account, on Sunday, after riot officers hit her, they ran off without questioning or arresting her.
Then other police officers dressed in blue and with lighter gear took her to the station concourse, where MTR staff called an ambulance.
Smyth was sent to Tuen Mun Hospital, where she got four stitches to her head. At the time, she was too scared to tell the doctor she was hurt by the police.
“The police were so angry and they just used me as a way to release their anger. That’s what it felt like,” she said.
She insisted that she had not done anything illegal and that the police could have used less forceful methods to get people to disperse.
The injured teacher said she would file a complaint against the police and report the case to the Australian consulate as a citizen living abroad.
Although she has never taken part in the anti-government movement, Smyth said she was now more supportive of the protesters’ calls for an independent commission to look into the level of force police have used in the past months.
Smyth cast doubt on the effectiveness of the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), the watchdog to which Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor promised to appoint two more members – former Bar Association chairman Paul Lam Ting-kwok SC and former deputy ombudsman Helen Yu Lai Ching-ping.
[Though] I am not one of the protesters, I supported the call. But now, I support it even more because [the excessive use of force] happened to me personally
“Even though now, Carrie Lam has announced she was adding people to that new team. Still, it would not help anything,” she said.
The IPCC already announced a panel of overseas experts would help its investigation into alleged excessive use of force by police at protests.
Smyth said she was not convinced the council would achieve much.
The IPCC has no investigative power and cases would rely on the findings by the Complaints Against Police Office, itself a branch of the police.
“[Though] I am not one of the protesters, I supported the call. But now, I support it even more because [the excessive use of force] happened to me personally,” she said.
In a reply to the Post, police said officers were at the scene after some turnstiles were reported to be damaged inside the station by “rioters” on Sunday evening.
“Later, a large crowd gathered in a disorderly manner at the concourse area inside the station. Police later conducted dispersal actions from the concourse towards the stairs leading to Siu Hong Court,” a spokeswoman said.
Some officers found a woman injured in the middle of the stairs, she said, and took her to MTR staff for medical help, while she did not tell officers how she was injured.
But the force did not reply to the Post’s questions about whether its officers beat residents without any warning, and how their officers could distinguish protesters from residents.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong police act early after protesters threaten mass disruption to MTR during morning rush hour
- Hong Kong police dismiss accusations of excessive force at Prince Edward MTR station and obstructing press during bus arrests in Kowloon Bay
- Hong Kong security chief John Lee praises police for railway station actions during night of protest mayhem
This article Woman says she needed stitches on her head after Hong Kong police beat her at Siu Hong MTR station and she now supports probe into their use of force first appeared on South China Morning Post