Hong Kong MTR shuts 5 stations around legal protest in Kwun Tong following China pressure
Hong Kong’s MTR announced on Saturday morning that five stations in the vicinity of a protest in Kwun Tong will close after 12pm.
In an unprecedented move, Yau Tong, Lam Tin, Kwun Tong, Ngau Tau Kok and Kowloon Bay will close as thousands are set to gather for a demonstration approved earlier by police.
“Due to the public event in Kwun Tong areas, as a prudent measure… Kwun Tong Line train service between Choi Hung and Tiu Keng Leng stations will be suspended temporarily,” the announcement read.
The move comes after days of pressure from Chinese state media outlets, who accuse the transit firm of assisting anti-government protesters.
On Saturday, demonstrators are set to rally against the installation of smart lampposts owing to privacy concerns. They won police approval to march from Kwun Tong’s Tsun Yip Street Playground to Kowloon Bay’s Zero Carbon Building. In a statement, organiser Ventus Lau condemned the move by the rail operator.
“I strongly condemn the MTR for impeding the public from attending a lawful protest, and affecting regular civilians going to work in East Kowloon.”
He demanded that the police and the Transport Department organise a route by which marchers could leave at the end of the protest, and called on participants to take the bus or walk from Choi Hung MTR Station.
On Friday, the majority government-owned operator had warned that it may close stations without prior notice if violent protests occurred inside.
Meanwhile, the High Court has issued an injunction banning a range of obstructive or disorderly activities and property damage at all MTR stations after an urgent application by the MTR Corporation (MTRC).
The court order, which was granted on Friday night after a closed-door hearing, prevents the public from “unlawfully and willfully obstructing or interfering with the proper use and operation of the railway.”
Other activities banned by judge Anderson Chow include: blocking train doors, improperly activating emergency devices, damaging property, graffiti, disorderly behaviour and loitering.
The urgent injunction comes after the airport was granted a similar order on August 14 which banned obstructive activities, as well as protests altogether in most areas of the terminals. However, the MTRC’s injunction made no mention of banning protests or demonstrations.
The rules will come into effect once displayed publicly at the relevant stations, and failure to comply may constitute contempt of court.
The new series of measures come after state media — including People’s Daily and Xinhua — criticised the rail operator for being an “accomplice to rioters” earlier in the week by delaying or deploying additional trains to allow protesters to board during police clearance operations.
In recent weeks, sporadic protests have also taken place inside different stations.
On Wednesday, Yuen Long saw a sit-in to mark a month since July 21, when an armed pro-Beijing mob attacked civilians. Demonstrators later occupied the surrounding roads. When pushed back by riot police, they used MTR property and fire extinguishers to prevent the officers from advancing indoors.
At Kwai Fong and Tai Koo this week, local residents gathered on several occasions, demanding an explanation for police action inside the stations on August 11. On Thursday night, a Kwai Fong MTR staffer reportedly assaulted a protester and ran into the control room after he tried to block the turnstiles.
The latest MTR protest took place after the “Hong Kong Way” human chain on Friday night at Kwai Fong, which closed early at 9pm citing potential protests and a threat to the safety of employees.
Protesters and local residents stayed inside the station’s lobby nevertheless, chanting “I want to take the train” and “MTR is rubbish”. Walls were graffitied with slogans such as “dog train” and “fuck the popo-MTR”.
After the MTR announced the early closure of Kwai Fong Station at 9pm, protesters have gathered at the station for the second consecutive night on Friday, demanding an answer as to why police managed to fire tear gas indoors there on August 11.
After riot police advanced near the station at 10:45pm, protesters dispersed peacefully.
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