Hong Kong protesters on Tuesday marked six months since a bloody attack on train passengers and bystanders by white-shirted triad-linked thugs wielding batons inside Yuen Long MTR station, as eight victims of the attack sued the city's chief of police.
Hundreds of people gathered for a silent sit-in outside the station to mark the July 21 attacks. Riot police closed in and fired tear gas and pepper spray on anyone who lingered after the official end time of 10:00 p.m.
Protesters said they would never forget that the Hong Kong police failed to respond to more than 24,000 emergency calls from the area as the white-shirted mob ran amok, bludgeoning passengers for 39 minutes before police arrived on the scene, leaving 45 people in hospital.
TV footage in the hours following the attack showed officers chatting to groups of similarly-clad armed men on the same day.
A similar sit-in was held in Causeway Bay MTR station, according to social media posts.
Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said he has gathered video footage and witness accounts in support of a lawsuit against the chief of police brought by himself and seven other victims of the attack seeking H.K. $2.7 million (U.S. $350,000) in compensation.
"Our court case is not just for our compensation. We are looking for justice for the victims and for Hong Kong," Lam told journalists on Tuesday. "We believe that it was a turning point in Hong Kong history."
"The police force deliberately allowed the gangsters to use weapons to attack civilians in Yuen Long indiscriminately. This was blatant collusion between the police and triads and marks a watershed for Hong Kong. We’ve been unable to trust the police from that point onwards," Lam said.
Police have said the protesters had "provoked" the attackers, but there is scant evidence on video footage to support this view.
Thirty-seven people, some of whom have links to triad organizations, were arrested in the wake of the attack, and seven of them face charges of "rioting."
Treatment of journalists
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA) has called on police to stop lying about their treatment of journalists covering the protests.
The group said police officers had attacked reporters on Jan. 19 in Mong Kok and Central districts for no reason while they were in the process of doing their jobs.
"They stole their video equipment and mobile phones, shoved them down on the ground and sprayed pepper spray on their heads," the HKJA said in a statement on its website. "Personal information was leaked because police deliberately displayed it for about a minute in front of a live camera."
"The HKJA ... is extremely angry and strongly condemns these actions by police. We call on the higher ranks of the police force to exercise better restraint on frontline officers," it said.
Protesters also took to social media to remember the Yuen Long attack.
"Today marks six months of the 721 incident, when triads rushed into a train station and attacked people indiscriminately," Twitter user @usssnonichijyou wrote on Tuesday. "The police didn't care and arrived late. Never forget."
Twitter user @HkKayau wrote: "It's been 6mo since the #721 #YuenLongAttack. This date marks the official beginning of #HKPoliceState, the collapse of rule of law and the tearing down of the facade of 1 country 2 systems."
Under the "one country, two systems" framework agreed before the 1997 handover to Chinese rule, Hong Kong was promised the maintenance of its freedoms of speech, assembly and political participation.
The protests that erupted seven months ago in response to plans to allow extradition to mainland China were largely triggered by the erosion of those freedoms, particularly following a series of high-profile interventions by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in the city's political life, including the debarring of pro-democracy lawmakers and would-be election candidates for their political views.
Beijing also decreed that while it would allow Hongkongers to each have a vote in popular elections, they would only be allowed to choose from among candidates approved by China.
Too little, too late
Millions of pro-democracy supporters have taken to Hong Kong's streets with demands for a public inquiry into police violence, fully democratic elections, an amnesty for thousands of arrested protesters, and an end to the use of the word "rioters" to describe the movement.
While chief executive Carrie Lam formally withdrew hated amendments to the city's laws that would have allowed extradition to mainland China in October, protesters slammed her response as too little, too late, and demanded she address the rapid erosion of the city's promised freedoms.
Frontline protesters, eyewitnesses, journalists and human rights groups have repeatedly said that the majority of violence during the protests has originated with the Hong Kong police, who have been widely criticized for the excessive use of tear gas, water cannon, pepper spray, as well as both non-lethal and live ammunition weapons on unarmed protesters.
Around one third of adults in Hong Kong have reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since the protest movement escalated last June, according to a mental health survey published in The Lancet this month, which said the incidence of psychiatric problems was similar to those usually associated with war zones or terrorist attacks.
Rights groups have warned that Hong Kong is now in a state of humanitarian crisis after police fired more than 16,000 rounds of tear gas in recent months, with around 1,000 of those fired into the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) campus during a single day in November.
Reported by RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.