With thick red wounds criss-crossing his back and arms, a Hong Kong man recounted to AFP Wednesday his terror as suspected triad members attacked him in the mistaken belief he was a pro-democracy protester.
Calvin So, 23, said he had just finished work at a restaurant and was heading home when the gangsters attacked him as they hunted down protesters at a train station in the town of Yuen Long in northwest Hong Kong.
The savage attacks late on Sunday night, which left dozens injured, have deepened fears of an increasingly violent crackdown against nearly two months of pro-democracy rallies in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
So, who remained in hospital on Wednesday, recounted a merciless response from the men when he told them he was not one of the protesters.
“They started to threaten me and surround me,” So told AFP. “Then one of them hit me.”
“I thought there was some misunderstanding,” he said, explaining he was wearing a grey T-shirt — not the black generally favoured by the protesters — and rubber Crocs often worn in kitchens.
“I told them that I just got off work, I’m still wearing my work shoes, I’m not your target.”
But So said he was bundled quicky to the ground, and the group piled in to rain blows on his body with canes and sticks, ignoring his pleas for them to stop.
So took off his shirt to showcase his wounds to AFP, revealing a patchwork of red welts and wounds that he said had been so painful that he had been unable to sleep on Sunday.
So told AFP he did not want to discuss his political views, but he made clear he had been left shaken that the gangsters could act with such impunity.
“My confidence in the police has decreased a lot,” Sai said, adding he would change the route he usually took to work in future.
Hospital authorities said 45 people were wounded in the violence.
One man was still in critical condition and another in serious condition, a hospital spokesperson said Wednesday.
The violence was filmed by victims and bystanders on mobile phones, with some of it broadcast live on Facebook and other scenes later going viral on social media.
They showed the gangsters — most wearing white T-shirts and carrying bats, sticks and metal poles — setting upon the demonstrators and others at the entrance to Yuen Long train station.
Anger at triads
The attack piled further pressure on Hong Kong’s embattled police force, with critics accusing it of reacting too slowly to the incident, and the city’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam.
At a press conference convened by pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting on Wednesday, other witnesses described watching the gang beat up passengers on a moving train, with some showing wounds they had received.
Police said Tuesday 11 men had been arrested for their involvement in the attacks, including some with suspected triad backgrounds.
Yuen Long is situated near the China border, where criminal gangs and staunchly pro-Beijing rural committees remain influential.
Similar assaults by pro-government vigilantes against demonstrators during the 2014 “Umbrella Movement” protests were also blamed on triads.
The extraordinary protests in Hong Kong, which in some cases have attracted more than a million people, were initially sparked by a now-suspended bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.
They quickly evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms and a halt to the erosion of freedoms in the territory.
China committed to allowing Hong Kong to retain key liberties when it took back the territory from the British in 1997.
But many among Hong Kong’s seven million people believe that Beijing is brazenly reneging on its handover agreement.
China’s rulers have warned that the protesters’ actions are “intolerable”.
But the protesters appear intent on defying those warnings, as well as the growing fears about a violent crackdown.
Highlighting their defiance, the pro-democracy movement has flagged another protest at Yuen Long.
“We need to come out to show people that Hong Kong people will not surrender… and reclaim Yuen Long and oppose triad terror,” said organiser Max Chung.