Hong Kong protests: MTR Corporation toughens stance on anti-government protesters amid pressure from Beijing

Hong Kong protests: MTR Corporation toughens stance on anti-government protesters amid pressure from Beijing

Railway operator says it will shut stations and stop service without notice in case of violence

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Anti-government protesters confront police during a sit-in at Yuen Long MTR station, one month after mobs of men in white T-shirts attacked people there.
Photo: Sam Tsang/SCMP

The MTR Corporation has got tough on extradition bill protesters, after Beijing expressed dismay at its gentle approach when dealing with their actions at train stations that had sometimes crippled services.

The railway operator announced on Thursday that from now on, “if fights, vandalism or other acts of violence” occur, services could be stopped and the station immediately closed without notice.

“The police may need to enter stations to make suitable law enforcement when necessary,” it said in a late-night statement after it was attacked by state-owned media outlets.

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Its chief executive Jacob Kam Chak-pui was criticised by the central government, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Beijing was not happy with MTR Corp’s handling of the protesters and the staff who support them, the source said. “They think Kam has been too soft. He has come under tremendous pressure to keep the situation in check.”

On Thursday, the firm – mostly owned by the Hong Kong government – was heavily criticised by mainland media for allegedly allowing the spread of violence by “black-clad rioters” at Yuen Long station the night before, when small groups of protesters set off fire extinguishers and set up barriers using rubbish bins and sand buckets in a stand-off with riot police.

Hong Kong protests: Sit-in at Yuen Long MTR leads to police confrontation, as HK marks one month since violent attacks

The MTR Corp halted train services at the station but arranged special trains to pick up people already there.

In its latest statement, the company said it would alter service arrangements if “the situation so merits to ensure the safety of MTR staff and passengers”, and appealed to the public for their understanding.

“Under safe circumstances, the corporation will continue to dispatch trains to pick up passengers ... stranded in stations as far as practicable,” it added.

Hong Kong protests: Female anti-extradition bill demonstrator says she was illegally strip-searched by HK police

So far, Beijing has not asked the company sack staff believed to have supported the protesters, the source said. “But after the district council elections in November, there will be a political purge at the MTR and other public organisations.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the Hong Kong MTR Staff General Association released a statement through local media Stand News to condemn protesters for “containing”, “hurling insults” and “bullying” MTR staff stationed at Tai Koo station for a total of six hours the night before.

This came after at least 100 people assembled outside Tai Koo station’s control room on Tuesday. They wanted to know what the corporation was doing to hold the police accountable for their actions on August 11, when the force fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who had fled into the station.

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They also called on the MTR management to condemn the protesters’ bullying behaviour against the corporation’s frontline employees, strictly execute all the MTR by-laws, and clarify whether MTR staff have the authority to stop police from enforcing the law inside stations. What’s more, they urged the government and the firm to make clear to the public whether it is against the MTR by-laws to protest without a permit.

Meanwhile, as of 4.30pm on Friday, 100,432 netizens had signed an online petition urging the White House to nominate “Hong Kong freedom fighters” (extradition bill protesters) for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize. Created on August 17 by an anonymous person calling themselves H.W., the petition was being shared on the local forum LIHKG and different social media platforms yesterday.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
MTR to act on protesters

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