MTR releases images of station clashes in which protesters claim 3 died

A screengrab of security footage shows paramedics escorting three of the injured out of Yau Ma Tei station.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Hong Kong's rail operator has finally released screenshots from security camera footage of a police crackdown on anti-government protesters at a metro station last month in yet another effort to debunk persistent, unfounded rumours that three people had been killed by officers using excessive force.

However, the 26 still images made public by the MTR Corporation on Tuesday left out a crucial, 2½-hour period when riot police and elite personnel known as Raptors from the Special Tactical Squad beat and arrested protesters on the platforms at Prince Edward station on the night of August 31, prompting more allegations that officials had something to hide.

In the seventh official attempt in 10 days to set the record straight, the MTR, police force, Fire Services Department and Hospital Authority held a joint press conference to clarify that seven people had been found injured in the station, not 10 as initially counted by ambulance crews.

Earlier, the city's embattled leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, appealed to the public to be careful about believing in "fake news" and speculation.

"Every one of us, including government officials … has to be extremely cautious in ascertaining whether it is accurate," Lam said.

At 10.53pm, an evacuation was triggered at Prince Edward station while riot police entered via Exit C2. PHOTO: South China Morning Post

MTR operations chief Sammy Wong Kwan-wai again rejected calls to release all the footage in their possession, citing the need for privacy protection.

"We have already struck a balance between the public and privacy concerns," he said, adding that two security cameras were destroyed on platform 4 that night.

"We tried our best to dig out the security camera footage and hope the time sequence gives the public a full picture of what happened."

Video clips taken by the media and widely circulated online showed Raptors and riot police in a confrontation with protesters using umbrellas on a stationary train on platform 4, while the doors kept opening and shutting.

The officers were seen storming into the train and beating two men and two women, some in masks, who were crying and cowering on the floor.

While protesters and their supporters have accused police of indiscriminately beating innocent commuters, the force has been adamant that it only went after radicals who had changed out of their signature black clothes and were pretending to be regular passengers.

The screenshots from Prince Edward and Lai Chi Kok stations showed the first batch of paramedics arriving at 11.20pm, nearly 30 minutes after riot police reached the scene.

It showed a special train, which police had requested, being sent to Lai Chi Kok station at 12.54am on September 1, and officers and paramedics escorting seven injured people out of the station at around 1.35am.

Another three injured people arrived at Yau Ma Tei station from Prince Edward at 11.09pm, before paramedics took them outside.

But the MTR did not provide any images of police action against the protesters at platforms 3 and 4 from the time of their arrival at 10.56pm, including the beatings and arrests, until the injured protesters were sent out of Lai Chi Kok station at 1.35am.

PHOTO: South China Morning Post

The rumours about the deaths and allegations of a cover-up began after a paramedic said 10 people had been hurt, but that figure was then adjusted to seven, sparking claims that three had died.

Prince Edward station has been repeatedly besieged and vandalised by protesters who have set up shrines outside to "mourn" those said to have died.

Senior assistant chief ambulance officer Lo Shun-tong, of the Fire Services Department, said at Tuesday's briefing that it was not uncommon when handling multiple-casualty incidents for there to be a difference between the number of casualties in the initial assessment and the final tally.

The department said the paramedics made their initial headcount of the injured at 12.15am and a second count at around 1am on September 1.

Lo said all seven of the injured had been conscious when sent to hospital, with three subsequently having their condition classified as serious. 

Senior Hospital Authority manager Andy Kung Chak-man said 46 people with injuries related to mass demonstrations across different districts on August 31 were sent to 10 hospitals, and no one had died.

Police Senior Superintendent Yolanda Yu Hoi-kwan said such rumours were "malicious and ungrounded".

"Certain people spread such malicious rumours to slander the government and stir up grievances in society. Such accusations are very serious and have aroused much public concern. We must reiterate that such rumours are certainly false and ungrounded," she said.

Yu dismissed rumours that the families of the deceased had filed reports at Mong Kok Police Station. "Up until today, our missing person unit also has not received any reports about missing persons concerning the incident that night," she said.

Opposition politicians were far from satisfied by the explanation, with Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho insisting the MTR release all the footage in its possession, with the faces of passengers blurred to address privacy concerns.

"This selective release of screenshots certainly can't address the public concerns as they don't show the whole truth," he said. "What happened on the night of August 31 at the station is still a big question mark and remains a mystery."

Quentin Cheng Hin-kei, a spokesman for commuter concern group Public Transport Research Team, said only the full release of all the footage could quash the rumours.

"I am pretty sure the footage would put police at a disadvantage that's why the MTR is reluctant to disclose it in full," he said.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.