Skip to main content

Intimidation tactics

Sunday’s subway attack in Hong Kong marks a new level of opposition to pro-democracy demonstrations

Intimidation tactics

Men in white shirts attack passengers, protesters, and journalists at Yuen Long MTR station. (Handout)

Since protests against a controversial extradition law began last month in Hong Kong, the Chinese government has largely kept silent, censoring news inside mainland China about the huge pro-democracy marches in Hong Kong. 

But last weekend it switched tactics as official media reported that the Hong Kong protesters had vandalized the Chinese government’s liaison office there on Sunday. Chinese news reports showed images of the Chinese state emblem covered in black ink and graffiti on the building walls, according to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.

On Wednesday, Senior Col. Wu Qian, chief spokesman for China’s Ministry of National Defense, hinted that the military could intervene if protesters challenged the authority of the central government. He noted that the behavior of “some radical protesters” could not be tolerated.

Yet Chinese media unsurprisingly left out the most newsworthy part of Sunday’s protests: At 10:30 p.m. a large mob of men wearing white T-shirts, some believed to be local gangsters, burst into Yuen Long subway station in northwest Hong Kong and indiscriminately attacked passengers, protesters (who were wearing black), and journalists. The attacks injured at least 45 people. Although witnesses immediately called for police, officers did not arrive until 11:15 p.m., after the mob had dispersed, the Post reported.

Videos shared online show the men in white using metal rods to beat passengers as they desperately tried to get on an escalator to escape the subway station. Some tried to use umbrellas to block the blows. Another video showed a young man on his knees begging the men not to hurt the other passengers on the train. In response, one of the attackers punches him to the ground.

Screen capture from video shared on social media.

The attackers beat passengers at Yuen Long MTR station. (Screen capture from video shared on social media.)

After midnight, the Hong Kong government condemned the attacks in a statement: “This is absolutely unacceptable to Hong Kong as a society that observes the rule of law. The [government] strongly condemns any violence and will seriously take enforcement actions.”

Yet Hong Kong residents were riled by the police officers’ slow response. They also questioned why pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-Yiu was seen in a video shaking hands with men in white shirts that night. Ho distanced himself from the attacks, but said the incident was a “normal reaction to protesters who brought violence to the peaceful community after they stormed the liaison office,” according to the Post. The next day protesters vandalized and broke the glass walls in Ho’s office.

This isn’t the first time pro-Beijing forces are suspected of using members of Hong Kong’s organized criminal gangs—also known as triads—to intimidate protesters: During the 2014 Umbrella Movement, mobs that included triad members attacked protesters in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay, tearing down tents and beating protesters and journalists. At the time, pro-democracy politician Albert Ho told AFP that Chinese Communists “use triads or pro-government mobs to try to attack you so the government will not have to assume responsibility.”

Earlier on Sunday, 430,000 people joined a protest calling for an independent investigation into police brutality during the June 12 protest against the extradition bill, according to event organizers. But a few thousand protesters remained after the official protest ended, defacing the liaison office, The New York Times reported. In clashes around the area, riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets as protesters threw projectiles. 

While Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has suspended the extradition bill, she still has not fully withdrawn the measure, and she refuses to step down. Joshua Wong, a 22-year-old protest leader released from prison last month for his role in the Umbrella Movement, argues that people are fed up with a government that does not care about its people. He says they are fearful of the future, with Hong Kong scheduled to fully return to Chinese control in 2047.

“Events in Hong Kong are about so much more than the bill, more than Lam, more even than democracy,” Wong tweeted on July 2. “They all matter of course. But in the end it is about the future of Hong Kong beyond 2047, a future that belongs to our generation.”

Inflation game? 

While the government of China claims a national population of 1.4 billion people, the actual number could be 115 million fewer, making the country smaller than India, according to social scientist Yi Fuxian. He believes that the government fixed the number to hide the demographic drop due to forced family planning policies, and that schools inflate the number of students to receive more education subsidies. 


You must be a WORLD Member and logged in to the website to comment.
  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Fri, 07/26/2019 01:35 am

    Thanks for keeping us updated on the Hong Kong situation. I hope the UK steps in and takes back Hong Kong given that China has failed to live up to their commitments! Of course China will resist this but it is an interesting thought! Great reporting! 

  • Leeper
    Posted: Fri, 07/26/2019 09:17 am

    The people of Hong Kong need our prayer in trying to save thier democracy and the freedoms it provides.