Hong Kong’s rail operator has announced that it may close down stations “without prior notice” if violent protests occur at its stations, just hours after Chinese state media criticised the company for being too lenient on demonstrators.

On Thursday evening, the MTR Corporation said that its past practice during clashes at stations was to arrange special trains to pick up passengers stranded there, while having other trains skip that station to avoid endangering other commuters.

yuen long china extradition 21 august (29)
Photo: May James/HKFP.

But the policy may soon change, the company said in a statement: “If fights, vandalism or other acts of violence occur, under emergency situation[s], operation and train service at the stations concerned may be immediately stopped, and/or the station will be closed, without prior notice.”

“Under safe circumstances, the Corporation will continue to dispatch trains to pick up passengers who are stranded in stations as far as practicable. However, the police may need to enter stations to take suitable law enforcement when necessary.”

The announcement came after state media People’s Daily published a commentary article saying that MTRC was giving “nice treatment” to black-clad protesters.

yuen long china extradition 21 august (29)
Photo: May James/HKFP.

“What is most intriguing is that the MTRC not only delayed in calling the police, it even arranged special trains for rioters to escape for free,” read the article.

“This really is a puzzling scene. Those dressed in black have broken the law and disrupted social order, but can receive such preferential treatment. What is wrong with the MTRC?”

The article went on to say that the railway operator “confused its role” and should put the public interest first. “Truth to be told, the MTRC is not the only one of its kind in today’s Hong Kong. Faced with rioters making waves, some have been reticent and some even support them covertly.”

Meanwhile, China’s state-run news agency Xinhua shared a video claiming that the transit firm was laying on “exclusive,” free services for violent protesters.

It questioned whether the MTRC was an “accomplice to rioters.”

On Wednesday evening, hundreds of protesters filled Yuen Long MTR station on the one-month anniversary of the July 21 Yuen Long mob attack. Riot police and protesters were locked in a standoff, as demonstrators scrawled graffiti on the station walls, barricaded an exit and set off fire extinguishers. Most left via MTR trains without direct clashes occurring.

In its Thursday statement, the MTRC condemned protesters who vandalised their stations and harassed railway staff.

yuen long china extradition 21 august (5)
Photo: May James/HKFP.

In the early days of the anti-extradition bill movement, police officers often refrained from entering MTR stations to make arrests or disperse protesters.

However, riot police entered Yuen Long station and targetted protesters on July 28. And on August 11, the force fired crowd control weapons in Tai Koo and Kwai Fong stations.

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Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.