Several governments and international rights groups have issued statements condemning recent violence in Hong Kong, which resulted in at least 45 injuries.
A group of men in white T-shirts wielding wooden and metal poles, rushed into the Yuen Long metro station on July 21 evening and began beating passengers, according to footage taken by commuters, journalists at the scene, and Democratic party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, who was among those injured.
The attackers targeted people dressed in black, according to Lam and other witnesses. Those dressed in black were likely protesters who had joined a peaceful march earlier in the day against a controversial extradition bill.
Internet video shows triad members in Yuen Long of #HongKong gather & pose threat to peaceful protestors.
— Craig Choy (@CraigChoy) July 21, 2019
The July 21 march drew over 430,000 participants. Since June, the city has seen mass protests as Hongkongers express anxiety over a bill that would allow any country, including mainland China, to seek extradition of criminal suspects. Many fear that the proposal would allow the Chinese regime to put individuals on trial in Chinese courts, where rule of law is not observed.
Hong Kong police’s slow response to the violence has been heavily criticized by local pro-democracy lawmakers. Police have since arrested six men in connection to the Yuen Long attacks, on charges of illegal assembly, noting that “some individuals have a triad background.” However, the men have not yet been charged with violent crime.
The U.S. State Department has since expressed concern about the violence, calling on all sides to “exercise restraint.” It added that reports of violence by criminal gangs against private citizens were “particularly disturbing,” according to Voice of America (VOA).
“It is important for the Hong Kong government to respect the freedom of speech and assembly, as guaranteed by the basic law,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson stated. “Societies are best served when diverse political views are respected and can be freely expressed.”
“I am proud of the people of Hong Kong for standing up for their autonomy and freedoms and speaking out against the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party] ill intentions,” Yoho wrote.
He added: “As residents of Hong Kong continue to protest at the extradition bill orchestrated by Beijing, they bring attention to what the CCP’s true intent is: complete autocratic control of Hong Kong. Not after 2047, but as soon as possible.”
In the Sino-British Joint Declaration whereby Hong Kong’s transfer of sovereignty from Britain to China was outlined, the two sides agreed to preserve the city’s freedoms for at least 50 years after July 1, 1997, when the transfer officially took place.
At the UK Parliament on July 22, Labor Party member Catherine West and several colleagues sought an urgent reply from Andrew Murrison, the British Minister of State for International Development and the Middle East, about the Yuen Kong attack.
On behalf of the UK government, Murrison responded: “I condemn all violent acts, but I stand by people’s right to protest peacefully and lawfully. We must not let the violent actions of a few overshadow the fact that hundreds of thousands of people took part in the march yesterday [July 21] and did so in a peaceful and lawful manner.”
Murrison said the British government would continue to monitor the situation in Hong Kong and ensure that “Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, rights, and freedoms” are upheld under the “one country, two systems model” guaranteed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
“We will continue to be unwavering in our support for the treaty and expect our co-signatory to behave in a like manner,” Murrison concluded.
London-based group Hong Kong Watch issued a statement on July 22, condemning both the violence and the Hong Kong police for failing to protect citizens.
“The police refused to accept responsibility, despite failing to respond to multiple emergency calls from the men, women, and children being beaten up. No arrests were made on the evening of the event,” Hong Kong Watch stated. Police arrived at the scene about an hour after initial emergency calls were made, and did not make arrests at the scene, explaining that they could not confirm that those dressed in white shirts were the ones who had carried out the attacks.
Amnesty International condemned the police for “leaving people at the mercy of violent thugs” in a July 22 statement.
“Hong Kong is paying a heavy price for a failure in political leadership. Carrie Lam continues to inflame the situation by her refusal to completely withdraw the Extradition Bill, and her refusal to set up an independent investigation into the repeated failings by police,” Amnesty International stated. In mid-June, Lam announced that the bill was suspended, but Hongkongers remained unsatisfied.
Meanwhile, protesters have been calling for an independent investigation into the police use of force since June 12, when police fired pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, and bean bags to disperse protesters.
New York-based nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) raised concerns about two local reporters, one from Stand News who was hit in the head and back, and another from NOW TV whose camera was smashed, during the attack.
“It’s difficult to reconcile Hong Kong’s reputation as a place for press freedom and rule of law when police take no action against thugs who beat journalists and demonstrators,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, according to an online statement.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong also condemned the violence in a statement, urging Hong Kong authorities to “bring to justice those who carried out the unprecedented mob attack.”
The Hong Kong Journalists Association, Hong Kong Press Photographers Association, and Independent Commentators Association, have also issued a joint statement, appealing to the police to protect citizens and journalists.