The MTR Corporation on Tuesday tried to dispel rumours that people died in their station during a police operation by releasing screenshots from surveillance cameras.
However, the 26 screenshots – which also came with a timeline of events and a statement – fell short of the demands by some protesters who want the full videos be made public.
On Tuesday, the beleaguered rail operator held a joint press conference with the police, fire service and the Hospital Authority, with all parties concluding there was no evidence that anyone died at Prince Edward MTR station on August 31.
News footage from the night showed elite police officers – also known as “raptors” – charging into train carriages and using batons and pepper spray against passengers. The night ended with 53 people arrested.
The MTR Corporation’s Chief of Operations Sammy Wong said that the screenshots were released after taking into account privacy concerns.
None of the screenshots depicted the police use of force, and all of the faces of people depicted were blurred.
“We understand there are different views on the number of people injured, and we understand the public’s concern… We can see there were seven patients sent to the hospital from Lai Chi Kok station, and three were sent to the hospital from Yau Ma Tei station.”
“With regards to claims that there was a fatality at Prince Edward Station, there was no death reported that day, according to the station’s record,” he added.
However, Wong said that the footage may not be “comprehensive” as three of the surveillance cameras were damaged – two of which were located on the platform for Central-bound trains.
Netizens had previously seized on an alleged discrepancy in the number of injuries reported by paramedics. An initial report at around midnight counted 10 people hurt, but the figure was adjusted about 45 minutes later to just seven.
Lo Shun-tong, senior assistant chief ambulance officer from the Fire Services Department, said on Tuesday that the discrepancy was likely due to human error.
“Our colleague’s responsibility for making the on-scene assessment that day ran into some difficulties. The people injured were located at different spots on the platform – they moved around and were dressed similarly,” Lo said. “It was possible that our colleague counted some people twice.”
All seven of the people sent to the hospital had been conscious, and three were later classified as being in a serious condition, Lo added.
The Hospital Authority added that, on August 31, there were a total of 46 people who were hospitalised in relation to mass demostrations, but there were no related deaths.
At the press conference, Senior Superintendent Yolanda Yu said that police strongly condemned anyone who “maliciously spread rumours online with the goal to cause divisions in society.”
“Up until today, the Mong Kok police station has not received any related reports… and our missing persons unit has not received any report in relation to August 31,” she added.
Yu also defended the controversial decision to evict all journalists from Prince Edward station shortly after the violent incident, saying that it was an “atypical crime scene.”
Prince Edward MTR station had become a protest flashpoint nearly every day since the events of August 31, with many protesters surrounding station exits and the nearby Mong Kok police station. Police conducted dispersal operations in the Mong Kok neighbourhood almost nightly, using tear gas, beanbag bullets as well as pepper spray.
Many protesters also left flowers and paper money at one of the station exits to “mourn” those who were believed dead.
The MTRC’s argument on privacy protection drew a rebuke from commentator David Webb, who said that the CCTV footage should not be considered “personal data” at all.
“The Court of Appeal noted that photographs taken and published of people whom the publisher does not identify (or even know the identity of) are not ‘personal data,’” Webb wrote.
“The public interest would be served by making the recordings public. Whatever the concerns of the MTRC and police may be, they shouldn’t hide behind excuses of ‘privacy.’”
Meanwhile, student leader Leung Yiu-ting from the Hong Kong Education University has filed suit against the MTRC, asking that it reveal the relevant surveillance camera footage to show that his injuries were caused by police.
Leung was arrested at Prince Edward MTR station on August 31 but was later released unconditionally.
The MTR has become protesters’ latest target in a long summer of dissent, triggered by the now-withdrawn extradition bill. Since June, large-scale peaceful protests have morphed into sometimes violent demonstrations over Beijing’s encroachment and alleged police brutality.
Last month, the city’s mostly government-owned rail operator was accused by Chinese state media of assisting protesters to escape scenes of unrest. Since then, it has closed down stations during and ahead of planned protests, prompting some activists to vandalise MTR infrastructure.
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