- Yonden Lhatoo looks at the chaos protesters are creating at train stations and argues that the embattled operator has only itself to blame for allowing things to go off the rails before being shamed into taking action by Chinese state media
While everyone was gushing with praise and waxing eloquent about the beauty of Friday night's anti-government rally, when thousands of Hongkongers formed human chains mimicking the historic Baltic Way, the ugly underbelly of the protest movement was on full display at Kwai Fong MTR station.
A mob of hysterical protesters laid siege to the control room, harassing and abusing railway staff after the MTR closed the station early, expecting exactly that kind of behaviour following a previous night of protest anarchy on the premises.
As if yelling expletives at traumatised frontline railway workers and spray-painting obscenities on the walls were not foul enough, one protester saw fit to express his contempt for the MTR by urinating into a beer can right there and then, in full public view, like some wild animal, while his unhinged comrades pasted sanitary pads on the glass walls of the control booth. Our reporter at the scene spotted what looked like a used pad among them.
Who are these people? Is this really us? Is this what we have become in this great "revolution of our times"? I'm struggling to understand any of it; perhaps some psychiatrist can explain.
What's clear enough is that the protesters have turned against the city's railway operator and now transformed its train stations into battlefields to lash out at the MTR as well as confront the police.
They're even more aggrieved after the MTR secured a court injunction to stop protesters from "unlawfully and wilfully obstructing or interfering with the proper use of the stations and trains of the railway network". The injunction forbids people from "damaging any property or trains and using any threatening, abusive, obscene or offensive language or wilfully interfering with the comfort or convenience of any MTR staff at any station".
Good luck enforcing it, though, when tormenting and attacking fully armed police officers has replaced horse racing as Hong Kong's favourite pastime, and citizens have the freedom to firebomb police stations with impunity " how is a little court order going to make any difference to mob rule?
Sorry to say, the MTR is paying the price for essentially aiding and abetting the protesters these past months. Not only has the rail operator allowed radicals to use stations as convenient safe zones they can retreat into after every bout of violence, and to rely on the network to travel to the next target, its staff have been openly hostile to police coming in after the lawbreakers. Some employees have even been accused of leaking internal plans to protesters to help them sabotage and disrupt operations.
It's astonishing that the government, with a 75 per cent stake in the MTR, did nothing about it, and that it's taken the outrage broadcast by Chinese state media across the border to shame them into clamping down on the problem at last.
"The MTR dared to arrange special train services for the rioters and even sent them home free of charge," an incredulous news anchor declared on state television, referring to repeated instances of protesters being ferried home for free after battling police and trashing train stations.
Just a week ago, when riot police stormed into Kwai Fong station and fired tear gas in an enclosed space for the first time as they chased after a violent mob, the MTR complained about passenger safety being put at risk by police " not a peep about what the protesters were doing in the first place.
Well, just like it did with Cathay Pacific Airways, Beijing has forced the city's government-owned railway operator to stand up and be counted, and for staff to stop biting the hand that's feeding them.
Be assured of more shocking confrontations in the days to come, and commuting chaos for nearly 5 million passengers who use the railway network daily. Things have gone completely off the rails.
Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post
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