White-shirted assailants believed to be members of the 14K and Wo Shing Wo triad gangs attack protesters and bystanders in the Yuen Long MTR station on July 21, 2019. Photo: AFP

Seven Hong Kong government supporters who took part in a violent assault on pro-democracy protesters and commuters were jailed on Thursday.

The attack, widely attributed in news reports to members of the 14K and Wo Shing Wo triad gangs, was a turning point in 2019’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests. Revelations of the assailants’ underworld links badly eroded public trust in both the police force and Hong Kong’s government at the time.

A Hong Kong media outlet published new evidence about the mob attack on protesters and commuters at the Yuen Long MTR station on July 21, 2019, using technology that collects footprints on social media.

Wednesday marked the second anniversary of the Yuen Long attacks, which happened six weeks after the anti-extradition protests broke out in Hong Kong on June 9, 2019. Pro-democracy supporters claimed the incident was a terrorist attack on ordinary citizens, while police claimed it was a fight between two groups.

On July 21, 2019, hundreds of thousands of people marched from Causeway to Central in Hong Kong, urging the government to withdraw its extradition bill from the Legislative Council and release arrested protesters.

Some protesters then walked on to the central government’s Liaison Office building in Sai Wan and threw black paint on China’s national emblem. At about 10pm, hundreds of men wearing white shirts who had gathered near the Yuen Long station started attacking passengers – some of whom were going home from work and others returning from the protests.

Lam Cheuk-ting, the then legislator of the Democratic Party, arrived at Yuen Long station at 10:44pm and called on people to stay inside until the police came. However, the police did not show up.

The men in white shirts entered the station and attacked passengers, reporters and Lam with bamboo sticks and wooden rods. The attack lasted about 20 minutes. The men launched another round of attacks in the station at 12:26am.

Lam, who accused police of failing to stop the attacks and called for an independent investigation into the incident, was among 16 pro-democracy people arrested on August 20 last year.

Thirteen people were accused of participating in a riot on July 21, 2019, at Yuen Long station. Lam was granted bail but was arrested again, together with 52 people, on January 6 this year for allegedly violating the National Security Law after he joined the primaries of the pro-democracy camp last July.

Attackers gather at the Yuen Long railway station. Photo: AFP

The court will handle the cases of Lam and six other people in March 2023.

After the July 21 attack, a total of 37 white-shirted men were arrested, but only seven faced rioting charges.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) released a 999-page report on May 15 last year to review the police performance during the anti-extradition protests. Citing an online poster, the report said there were online messages calling for people to take part in a public meeting to be held in Yuen Long on July 21, 2019.

The poster reads “Fight for Yuen Long to rule the world” and “Gather in Yuen Long. Do not lose an inch of our ground.”

In a 23-minute-long video report published by the Stand News on Monday, Sandy Li Pik-yee, a pro-establishment activist, was seen among the white-shirted people on July 21, 2019.

Li said in a recent interview that people gathered to “protect Yuen Long” only after they knew that some people were going to make trouble in the district. She said people were provoked by the “Fight for Yuen Long to rule the world” poster.

With the use of a social media listening tool provided by the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre, the report found that the poster was first uploaded by a netizen nicknamed “Dust in the wind” on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, at 1:12pm on July 18.

Twenty minutes later, several pro-establishment groups shared the poster on their Facebook pages and said Yuen Long villagers should gather to “welcome” the incoming rioters and terrorists, referring to the protesters.

An hour after the “Fight for Yuen Long to rule the world” poster was first uploaded, many netizens said it was suspicious. They said pro-democracy protesters should ignore it and focus on the march on Hong Kong island.

During the anti-extradition protests, many rallies were initiated and promoted by anonymous netizens, or they must be approved by police in advance.

People stage a sit-in at Yuen Long MTR station after one month of the violent attack by white-shirted gangsters Photo: Screen-grab from RTHK

Citing some public information, Stand News said the person nicknamed “Dust in the wind” was a Mandarin-speaking woman called “Madam May,” who came from Sichuan province in the mainland and was married to a Hong Kong police officer in the 1990s.

Madam May did not respond to Stand News’ inquiries, but posted emojis on Weibo to laugh at the report.

Fu King-wa, an associate professor at HKU’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre (JMSC), said the IPCC’s report was misleading as it failed to cite the source of the “Fight for Yuen Long to rule the world” poster. Fu said such misinformation could affect court judgement.

During the court case of the seven attackers, prosecutors cited the IPCC report and said the July 21 incident came after some netizens called for a rally in Yuen Long. But the judge said the information was irrelevant to the case.

The IPCC declined to comment on the source of the poster.

As of Thursday, the Stand News’ video report on the July 21 attack has been watched more than 400,000 times. It was produced by Hong Kong journalists Cheng Sze-sze and Choy Yuk-ling, who won Hong Kong’s Kam Yiu-yu Press Freedom Award in April for their previous reports about the incident.

Jeff Tsui, a former reporter and businessman, said on his YouTube channel that people wanted to know more about the July 21 attack, but it would be more and more difficult to have high-quality investigative reports on the case due to the tightening of privacy laws and the coming new law against “fake news” in Hong Kong.

On June 26, Raymond Siu Chak-yee, the new police commissioner, said some citizens were concerned by the July 21 incident but suggested they look forward and not to the past.

On Thursday evening, Bastillepost.com, a pro-Beijing website, said the Stand News’ report was inaccurate as the “Fight for Yuen Long to rule the world” poster had been posted by a netizen nicknamed “Ever victorious” on a Telegram group an hour before “Dust in the wind” did it.

The website cited an unnamed source, who is familiar with the situation, and published a screengrab of the post showing only the time but not the date.

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