Yuen Long’s MTR station saw a heavy police presence on Wednesday night as a handful of Hongkongers showed up to mark two years since a mob attack that left 45 people injured.
Dozens of police officers were on standby around the metro station, which was stormed by over 100 rod-wielding men assaulting protesters, commuters, journalists and former legislator Lam Cheuk-ting on July 21, 2019.
The attack occurred during the peak of the anti-extradition bill protests, with police arriving late and being accused of leaving the scene.
On Wednesday, many police officers wore protective body armour after an officer was stabbed by a man who later knifed himself to death in Causeway Bay on July 1. The force also deployed at least two police dogs.
At around 6 pm, ex-district councillor Lam Chun of Tin Shui Wai Connection, Leo Tang of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) and Student Politicism convenor Wong Yat-chin spoke through a loudspeaker and distributed copies of a publication titled “People who stay behind” at the public transport interchange area below the MTR station.
Lam said he wanted to remind the public that there were still people who spoke up for injustice. He said the July 21 incident was a day of “political awakening” for Hongkongers, but the white-clad assailants had not yet been punished.
“A person may be destroyed easily, but the power of a group of people is beyond estimation. There will be victory if [we] persist,” he said.
On Thursday, Hong Kong’s District Court will mete out sentences for seven men who were convicted of rioting and wounding charges linked to the mob attacks.
Judge Eddie Yip warned earlier this month that he would impose a heavy sentence on attackers who appeared to have “lost their minds” when they “indiscriminately” assaulted passengers of all ages and genders in the MTR carriage.
Wong, on the other hand, said he wanted people to remember “the truth” about what happened in Yuen Long two years ago: “We hope people can pass on the truth about the July 21 incident.”
Police cited the Covid-19 public gathering rules repeatedly, saying congregations of more than four people were not allowed. Several people were stopped and searched by officers. The three pro-democracy activists left at around 7 pm.
Some people were stopped and searched by police, as the force cited the Covid-19 public gathering restrictions and warned people not to gather in the area. pic.twitter.com/blrrmQipb2— Hong Kong Free Press HKFP (@hkfp) July 21, 2021
The mob attacks in 2019 were seen as a turning point in the social unrest that rocked Hong Kong for months, as it deepened mistrust between the public and police. The force has faced criticism for arriving at the scene late as emergency calls went unanswered. They were also accused of colluding with the attackers, some of whom had triad connections.
First described by Chief Executive Carrie Lam as a shocking attack, police later called the July 21 incident a “gang fight” between white-shirted men and black-clad protesters whom they said were “evenly matched.”
The Democratic Party – which Lam Cheuk-ting was affiliated with – said on Wednesday evening that the mob attacks were “painful memories that cannot be forgiven.”
“White-clad men held metal rods and attacked citizens, two police officers turned away, citizens tried to block [attackers] with umbrellas, a journalist and a pregnant woman were attacked… no matter how much time has passed, we will not forget,” the party wrote on Facebook.
Inside Yuen Long MTR station, a woman briefly placed a watermelon and a children’s book titled “History of the World: Exploration and Revolution 1500 – 1900” on a fire hose cabinet.
The Chinese book title carried the same characters as the banned protest slogan “Revolution of our times.” The watermelon, on the other hand, has been used by some Hongkongers in reference to one of the assailants who was suspected to be a watermelon vendor surnamed Chan.
Police asked the woman, who was feeding a child in a stroller, to put the items away. A uniformed officer gave the fruit and the book back to the woman, saying that a warning could be given for violating MTR bylaws and obstructing the passageway inside the station.
She eventually left the station with another woman and two other children, as a handful of officers walked behind them.
A man surnamed Mok was stopped and searched by police on a footbridge linking Yuen Long station to nearby Tung Tau Tsuen. Officers looked through all his belongings and jotted down information from his identity card. He was later released without a warning.
Mok told reporters after the search that he was a Yuen Long resident, and therefore he would pass by the station. He said that, while he was not at the scene when the attacks took place, he wanted to remember the incident by reading a book and holding a piece of paper that read “Don’t want the memories, don’t dare to forget. The tragic case of July 21 Yuen Long. Justice yet to be done.”
“Unless [police] said remembering July 21 is in breach of the national security law… if they say so, then I will leave,” Mok said.
Correction 23.07.2021: a previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Mok as saying he did not believe police had said that remembering July 21 is in breach of the national security law. The error was introduced during editing.