2019 Yuen Long attack

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2019 Yuen Long attack
Part of the 2019 Hong Kong protests
Yuen Long Station White Tee people attack citizen in platform 20190721.png
Mob dressed in white attacking passengers at Yuen Long Station platform
Location in Hong Kong
Native name7·21 元朗襲擊
LocationYuen Long, The New Territories,
Hong Kong
Coordinates22°26′46″N 114°2′8″E / 22.44611°N 114.03556°E / 22.44611; 114.03556 (Location)Coordinates: 22°26′46″N 114°2′8″E / 22.44611°N 114.03556°E / 22.44611; 114.03556 (Location)
Date21 July 2019 – 22 July 2019
20:30 – 04:30[1] (HKT, UTC+08:00)
Target
Attack type
WeaponsWooden sticks, handles, poles, rattan canes,
steel rods, metal tubes[6]、Knife, iron pass
InjuredAt least 45 people (including 1 pregnant woman[7],One of them is critical and 5 are serious)
Victims
  • Anti-extradition bill protesters
  • Train passengers and bystanders
  • Journalists
  • Paramedics
  • Lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting
AssailantsWhite-shirted men with suspected triad background
Mob opening the gate in Yuen Long Station concourse
Overnight, the mobsters in Nam Pin Wai Village

The 2019 Yuen Long attack was a mob attack that occurred on 21 July 2019 to 22 July 2019, in Yuen Long, Hong Kong.[8][9][10] An armed mob of over 100 men dressed in white indiscriminately attacked civilians on streets with steel rods and rattan canes and attacked passengers in the Yuen Long MTR station[11][12] including the elderly, children,[13] black-clad protesters,[14] journalists and lawmakers.[15] At least 45 people were injured in the incident,[16] including a pregnant woman.[17] The attack happened following an anti-extradition bill protest in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong.

Despite thousands of reports made to the 999 emergency hotline,[18] the police did not arrive for more than 30 minutes and finally arrived one minute after the mob had left the station.[19][20][21] No arrests were made that night. Many accused the police of failing to protect citizens from being attacked, with some even alleging that the police colluded with the mobs.[22]

Background[edit]

Protests against the controversial extradition bill had been going on since March. Recent demonstrations had turned into clashes, with the police allegedly using increasingly violent strategies and force on the protesters. Government supporters who favoured the extradition bill praised police as defenders of law and order. In contrast with the black dress code of government protesters, government supporters wore white. People dressed in white vandalised the Tai Po Lennon Wall on 19 July and participated in a demonstration showing solidarity with the police on 20 July.

On Sunday 21 July, the Civil Human Rights Front organised a protest from Causeway Bay to Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island, with black being the dress code again. Claiming to "defend" their homeland, the white-shirt mob warned all anti-extradition bill protesters not to set foot in Yuen Long.[23]

Attack[edit]

External video
Footage of the 2019 Yuen Long attack (SCMP)

In the evening, assailants wearing white shirts and armed with iron bars and wooden clubs gathered in Yuen Long, a town in the New Territories. At around 10 pm, these assailants started indiscriminately attacking people and cars on the street. They were reportedly targeting those wearing black, the dress code for the democracy rally on Hong Kong Island, but also attacked journalists and bystanders.[24][25] One pregnant woman, wearing a long white dress, was found lying on the floor.[26]

At around 10:30 pm, about a hundred white-shirted assailants appeared at Yuen Long railway station and attacked commuters in the concourse indiscriminately, on the platform and inside train compartments.[27][28] Two police officers arrived at 10:52 pm.[25] However, they left the station as they judged that they were outnumbered by the assailants[28] and did not have sufficient gear, according to the police.[29] Thirty police officers arrived at the station at 11:20 pm, but the assailants had left.[29] Due to the violence, trains bypassed Yuen Long station between 10:56 pm and 11:19 pm,[30] and the station was ordered closed at 11:55 pm.[24] However, after midnight, white-shirted assailants forced open the station's shutters to launch a second wave of attacks on passengers; no police officers were at the scene then.[29] In all, at least 45 citizens were reported injured,[31] including Legislative Council member Lam Cheuk-ting and two reporters; one other journalist had their equipment smashed.[32][33]

Citizens made calls to the emergency hotline upon seeing the armed group assembling at around 7:00 pm, and an MTR spokesman said the first call by the MTR to the police was made at around 10:45 pm, but police officers arrived more than three hours after initial calls for help were made.[34][35] The local police call centre received thousands of calls between 10 pm and midnight,[18][36] and some citizens could not connect to the reporting hotline.[37] The management of Yoho Mall, a shopping mall next to Yuen Long station, also attempted to call the police but they could not get in touch with them.[31] The police station near Yuen Long shut its gate in response to the hundreds that turned up to report the incident.[36][38] Overnight, the police confronted the mobsters in Nam Pin Wai Village and confiscated several steel bars,[30] though no arrests were made as they saw no one holding weapons and "noticed nothing criminal" in the village[30] and claimed they could not determine the identity of the white-shirted mobsters.[39]

Criticism of police's response[edit]

The moment that a female journalist of Stand News was attacked by Chan (陳志祥)[40]. Two months after the attack, the attacker, Chan, has not yet been arrested by the police[41].

Late arrival[edit]

An MTR spokesman said workers at the station saw disputes taking place at about 10:45 pm and immediately contacted police within two minutes.[42] However, the police officers only arrived at around 11:15 pm, when the mob was gone, despite receiving many other citizens' call to 999 for help.[20] Residents also reported being ignored and treated rudely by 999 responders, who claimed they "should stay at home if they are afraid". Upon arrival, police were surrounded by dozens of angry residents and protesters who accused police of deliberately retreating after being called to the scene for the first assault.[16]

Police Commander Li Hon-man, who was interviewed at the scene by journalists, was asked why police had arrived late. He was recorded on video saying "I don't know if we were late" and claimed to have not looked at his watch. The following day, contact information for commanding officer Li Hon-man had been removed from the government directory, along with removal of the details for 11 other lower-ranking officers from the Yuen Long Division.[43][44]

Meanwhile, leaked videos show that two police officers had arrived on the scene but then turned away.[45] Police responded that the two policemen had backed off and called for help as they considered that they did not have the equipment to deal with armed crowds.[14]

Shutting nearby police station[edit]

Many also criticised the fact that that police stations in the vicinity of the Yuen Long attacks shut their doors, despite large group of residents were there to report crimes. Police replied that the shut-down was for safety reasons due to large groups of protesters surrounding the stations.[14]

Apprehending suspects[edit]

After blocking entrances to the area for more than three hours, the police made no arrests.[16] When queried, the police explained that it could not be confirmed that those in white were the ones who participated in the violence and that the police were unable to record the identities of those in white because of their large numbers.[46] Yau Nai-keung, the Assistant District Commander of Crime in Yuen Long, also stated that the colleagues did not see anyone holding weapons at the area at all.[46]

Six men were arrested on 22 July 2019.[47] According to the police, one of the arrested suspects had a triad background.[48] Five more men were arrested on 23 July 2019.[49]

On 26 August, two men were charged and held without bail in relation to the Yuen Long attacks. Of the 30 people who have so far been arrested, some of whom have links to organised crime syndicates, only four individuals have been charged as suspects. Court hearings are scheduled to begin on 25 October.[50]

Alleged collusion[edit]

Pro-democratic lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, representing New Territories West, stated: “Police didn’t show up while thugs rampaged through the station and attacked Yuen Long residents indiscriminately last night," stating that this meant there was "clear collusion between police and the gangs.”[14]

Triad gangsters were previously linked to attacks on democracy activists in Mong Kok during the 2014 Umbrella Movement.[51] At that time, police were similarly accused of not responding in a timely manner and criticised for allowing attacks to occur.[52]

Lynette Ong, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto commented that:

This is not the first time thugs have been sent in to beat up protesters. This is more organised, suggesting they are becoming more daring, and the Hong Kong government or pro-Beijing officials are becoming more desperate to put the protests to rest... The underlying motive is quite similar … Sending in thugs is an option to evade responsibility. If you send thugs, it's almost impossible to trace, and you can't hold anyone accountable[53]

Misconduct in public office[edit]

Stephen S.N. Char, barrister and former Chief Investigator of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, indicated that intentional negligence by police officers who refused to offer public services might have committed the offence of misconduct in public office under the common law.[54]

Suspected involvement of Junius Ho[edit]

After the incident, pro-Beijing legislator Junius Ho was accused of supporting the attack.[55] In various videos posted online, Ho greeted the white-clothed group of assailants, shaking their hands and calling the suspected gangsters "heroes", giving them thumbs-up and saying to them "thank you for your hard work." At least one of the white-clothed men who shook hands with Ho has been shown to have been inside Yuen Long Station during the attacks.[33]

Ho later explained that he lived in Yuen Long and was merely passing by after dinner and agreed to greet one of his supporters who requested to take photos with him.[46] Ho said he did not know anything about the attack when greeting them, and the meeting was before the incident. However, he also defended the mob at a press conference by saying that the incidents were a "normal reaction to protesters who brought violence to the peaceful community after they stormed the liaison office" and also praised them for "safeguarding" their district.[56][57]

The Law Society, of which Ho was once president, said it had received "quite a number of complaints" and is "seriously looking into" calls for disciplinary action against Ho and "conducting reviews on relevant complaints, and will pass the matter to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal if necessary."[57]

Junius Ho would later go on to lose his District Council seat in the 2019 Hong Kong local elections.[58]

Aftermath[edit]

Many shops on the streets and in shopping malls were closed in Yuen Long and the neighbouring towns Tuen Mun, Tin Shui Wai and Tsuen Wan on 22 July 2019.[59] Rumours spread online warned that there would be more violence on that day. Many companies allowed employees who live in the districts to leave work early that day.[48] Some schools in the district cancelled their afternoon activities.[59] Leisure and cultural facilities in Yuen Long operated by government closed early out of public safety considerations.[60]

Junius Ho's office in Tsuen Wan was vandalised by the protesters after the attack. A glass partition was broken, as well as leaving memo that "suggested a link between the violent gangs that carried out the attack the previous day and the police force".[61] Protesters also posted anti-government sticky notes on the exterior wall of his offices in Tin Shui Wai[62] and Tuen Mun.[63]

A group of unknown also vandalised the graves of his parents in Tuen Mun,[64][65] vandals also left graffiti with words such as "official-triad collusion"[64] and "Shing Wo" (a triad) near the graves, fuelling rumours regarding the background of the vandals.[66]

A news conference was held on 24 July by six people who were attacked and had decided to come forward with their stories. Several people in the group, including lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, stated they may appeal for financial compensation of damages in a court of law and file suite against the police and the MTR Corporation. Lam also said that his political party would assist any others who wish to press charges and seek redress.[67]

Petitions for dismissing Junius Ho as the member of University Council[edit]

In the light of Ho's potential involvement, a number of student bodies and alumni associations had made declaration condemning his support on the attack and hate speech, which seriously affect the image of Lingnan University. They also jointly request Chief Executive Carrie Lam to dismiss Junius Ho as the member of University Council. The University issued a statement afterwards stating the irrelevancy between the stance of University and the actions of Ho. The statement also highlighted their respect on freedom of speech.[68][69]

Reclaim Yuen Long protest[edit]

Protests originally planned on 27 and 28 July in Hung Hom-To Kwa Wan, Tseung Kwan O and Hong Kong Islands West were rescheduled or postponed to make way for a Reclaim Yuen Long action on 27 July.[70] However, the police issued the Letter of Objection, saying the proposed anti-mob march might 'create serious obstruction to the roads and pose a danger to marchers', after receiving pressure from the rural groups.[71] The applicant announced he would instead walk alone along the originally proposed route and urged people not to follow him.[72] Despite the risk of committing the unlawful assembly offence, tens of thousands of people, or 288,000 as the original march applicant estimated, turned up in the town. Many protesters marched on Castle Peak Road. The police fired tear gas in a primarily residential area and in the evening.[73][74] The police insisted that the tear gas shot did not affect the seniors living in an elderly home nearby, though photos showed otherwise.[75] Starting from 5 pm, the police fired canisters of tear gas upon protesters near Sai Pin Wai village and Nam Pin Wai Village, while protesters hurled objects in return.[76][77][78][79] While MTR had arranged special trains in Long Ping station to help protesters to leave Yuen Long,[80] riot police began dispersing protesters with more force around 7:30 pm, using batons and rubber bullets.[77][81] Protesters fleeing to Yuen Long station were followed by the Special Tactical Squad, and a standoff occurred inside the station.[80][82]

In the protest, a passenger car near Nam Pin Wai was vandalised by the protesters.[83] Several weapons were discovered in the car[83][84] that looked the same as the weapons brandished by the white-shirted men in the 21 July attacks,[85] as well as a hat that looks like the uniform of Mainland law enforcement.[84][85] On 28 July, police arrested the car owner for possession of weapons.[86] Online rumoured the identity of a personal name that found on a bill inside the car, was connected to the Liaison Office, however, the Liaison Office denied.[86]

21 August Yuen Long sit-in[edit]

Thousands of demonstrators staged a sit-in protest at Yuen Long station to demand justice and to remember the victims of the mob attacks that had occurred exactly one month prior on 21 July.[87][88]

Reaction[edit]

Several politicians such as Kenneth Leung Kai-cheong,[9][89] Roy Kwong Chun-yu[90] and other public figures[91][92][93] condemned it as a terrorist attack.

Hong Kong Economic Times compared the attack with two terrorist attacks in Mainland China in 2014, suggesting the Yuen Long attack may qualify as a terrorist attack according to the Mainland law.[94] The newspaper also compared the attack with U.S. law, making the same conclusion.[95]

Parties from both factions of the Legislative Council (LegCo), condemned the violence of the attack. Pro-democratic councillors signed a petition to condemn the negligence of the police in allowing suspected triads to become enforcers of their own rules,[96] while the pro-Beijing DAB condemned the violent incident and "demanded that the police follow up on [the attack] seriously".[97]

The injured, as well as LegCo Councillors Lam Cheuk-ting (who was also injured in the attack),[10][98] James Tien,[10] and a number of pro-democratic councillors[9] accused the mob of being members of triad gangs. The police also believed that some of the suspects arrested on 22 July "had triad backgrounds".[10][48]

Some politicians, such as Zachary Wong, Councillor of the Yuen Long District Council, accused the mob of being under the influence of the Beijing central government, citing the opinion of a Liaison Office official in an inauguration event of Shap Pat Heung Rural Committee days earlier.[99] After the attack, Reuters also claimed that they had the audio recording of the speech of the official.[100]

Journalists' associations condemned the attacks on journalists as "a severe infringement of press freedom".[101]

Arthur Shek Kang Chuen [zh], Vice-editor-in-chief of Hong Kong Economic Times and one of the executive directors of its publisher Hong Kong Economic Times Holdings, resigned on 23 July after retracting his personal opinion on encouraging the use of violence on anti-bill protesters; he expressed the opinion during an event supporting police on 20 July, a day before the attack.[102]

There was backlash on 22 July when 30 protesters demonstrated at Yuen Long police station to condemn the attacks and the delayed police response, the alleged collusion between police and triad gangs. Hundreds of social workers then marched to the same police station to report the violence, hand over criminal evidence and file complaints against the police.[103][104]

On 2 August, Labour Party representatives held a protest outside the Government offices demanding that Junius Ho be stripped of his title as a Justice of the Peace. Along with a petition of 20,000 signatures, the Labour Party chairman said Ho is unfit to hold the position as he incited others to use violence.[105]

Government response[edit]

The government condemned the attacks in a statement released after midnight local time.[106] However, the government refused to categorise the attack as a riot.[107][108]

Chief Executive Carrie Lam held a media session at 3 pm on 22 July 2019,[108] first condemning protesters for besieging the Liaison Office in Sheung Wan the night before. In addressing why she prioritised the liaison office incident before the Yuen Long mob attack in her remarks, Lam said: "It's important that Hong Kong citizens' daily lives are protected, but I believe all citizens will agree that the successful implementation of one country, two systems is ... even the most important thing."[109]

Lam did not directly address the media's questions about the alleged delayed response by police to calls for help.[109] Lam ultimately condemned the organised attacks on protesters and bystanders, stating that "violence will only breed more violence." However, former lawmaker James Tien questioned her sincerity and asked if Triads are now ruling Hong Kong. In the Facebook post, he urged Lam to resign for what happened in Yuen Long that night.[110] Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo said he needed to follow up with the incident and refused to comment at this point on the police's reaction towards mobs in this incident compared to the high-pressure approach towards protesters in earlier situations.[111]

On 26 July, Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung apologised to citizens and admitted that the police department's response fell short of public expectations.[112] Questioned about demands for an independent inquiry into police misconduct, Cheung said that the matter would be handled internally. Shortly after the apology, images of printed statements accompanied by warrant cards circulated on-line from dissenting police officers, questioning the need to apologise and calling Cheung an "enemy of the police."[113] The Police Inspectors' Association and the Junior Police Officers' Association expressed "the most serious condemnation" of his statement of apology.[114]

International[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • 元朗黑夜 [Dark Night of Yuen Long] (Television production). 經緯線 [Now Report] (in Cantonese). Hong Kong: Now TV. 28 July 2019 – via YouTube.
  • 721元朗黑夜 [721 Yuen Long Nightmare] (Television production). 鏗鏘集 [Hong Kong Connection] (in Cantonese). Hong Kong: Radio Television Hong Kong. 29 July 2019 – via YouTube.
  • Visual Investigation: When a Mob Attacked Protesters in Hong Kong, the Police Walked Away. The New York Times (Documentary). Retrieved 30 July 2019.

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