Dozens of Hong Kong police officers, including anti-terrorism personnel, were deployed around Prince Edward MTR station on Thursday night, as the city marked four years since a police dispersal operation during the 2019 extradition bill protests sparked unverified rumours of civilian deaths.
Around 50 armed police officers and media liaison officers were stationed in the vicinity of Mong Kok police station and inside the neighbouring Prince Edward MTR station on Thursday evening, according to an HKFP reporter’s estimation.
A photo from online media outlet The Collective also showed officers from the Counter Terrorism Response Unit patrolling the area.
Police officers outnumbered passers-by and journalists, while about a dozen people – most of them middle-aged, several dressed in black clothes – stood on a street corner opposite exit B1 of the MTR station.
The heavy police presence came as Thursday marked four years since baton-wielding riot police stormed the station following hours of violent clashes between police and protesters across the city.
Officers were filmed pepper-spraying people in carriages as they drove away reporters and medics. Discrepancies in official records of injuries and the closure of the station fuelled unverified rumours of civilian deaths, as the MTR Corporation refused to release CCTV footage. The police watchdog largely cleared the Force of wrongdoing, but has faced criticism for lacking independence and investigatory powers.
According to local media, at least two men who carried flowers were repeatedly stopped by the police near the station. One of them, who identified as Mr Poon, carried a bouquet wrapped with pink wrapping paper.
Local media reported that Poon bowed twice near exit B1 of Prince Edward station and was stopped by the police. Officers checked his identification card and released him afterwards.
Poon told reporters that the police said his actions led others to gather and watch, warning that he could be charged with disorderly conduct in public and requested he leave.
Another man, who gave his name as Brian, told reporters that the police warned him not to put down his bouquet and told him to leave the Prince Edward and Mong Kok area. The officers did not give reasons for their request, he said.
Police on Thursday warned the public to stay vigilant against “seditious rumours” online and not to take part in any illegal activities. The Force claimed there were recent calls on the internet for people to mourn for “the so-called 831 incident,” as well as posts inciting others to adopt “soft resistance” or take “relevant actions” some time around Thursday.
The rumours related to the Force’s operation on August 31, 2019 were proven to be a “fabrication,” a police statement read. Officers must discharge their duties in accordance with the law to safeguard the society, police said.
“It was a lie manipulated by people with ulterior motives to attack the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government and smear the Police Force, attempting to achieve their political objectives by breaching public peace,” a spokesman for the police said.
They added: “Police must discharge their duties in accordance with the law to safeguard the society, and disrupters’ plots are doomed to fail.”
Protests erupted in June 2019 over a since-axed extradition bill. They escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment. Demonstrators demanded an independent probe into police conduct, amnesty for those arrested and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.”
Additional reporting: James Lee.
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