No protesters have been killed in police action over the past three months of demonstrations, the Hong Kong government has stressed, as rumours that at least three people were beaten to death sparked hysteria.
The government issued the strong denial on Saturday, calling the rumours malicious.
“It is deeply regrettable that such an irresponsible rumour keeps spreading with the ill-intent to mislead members of the public, and to sow division and discontent in society at a time when the government is sincerely trying to establish a dialogue platform,” it said in a statement.
However, some people remained unconvinced and gathered outside the MTR station at the centre of the rumour, calling for “truth and justice”.
Online speculation revolved around a revision to the number of people injured during chaotic scenes on August 31 as radical anti-government protesters clashed with riot police at Prince Edward MTR station. The MTR Corporation was forced to close the station, which was badly vandalised, for two days.
Protesters and their supporters accused police of behaving like “gangsters” and indiscriminately beating commuters in the station, a claim the force flatly rejected.
Police said they entered the station at the MTR’s request as rampaging protesters were vandalising ticketing machines and the control room window, while others fought with a group of elderly passengers on the train, beating them with umbrellas and setting off a fire extinguisher in the compartment.
Rumours circulated that three people had died, with some versions putting the number as high as six, although nobody seems to know the names of the supposed victims and there are no families or friends asking for help.
Adding fuel to the fire, a woman told a Hong Kong Free Press reporter during a live video on Friday night that “her friend” was among six “executed” by police, claiming her parents had failed to see the body. But no further information about the supposed victim was provided.
Early on Saturday, the Fire Services Department issued a statement addressing the rumours, which included that an ambulance incident officer had revised the number of injured people at the scene from 10 to seven in operational messages.
According to a police source, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is very concerned about the rumour and has ordered an interdepartmental press conference, involving the force, Hospital Authority, Fire Services Department and MTR, to be held, possibly on Monday.
Some internet users had focused on the “missing three” as the department said seven injured people were escorted by ambulance personnel to Lai Chi Kok MTR station by a specially arranged train.
In the statement, the department said the situation in the station was chaotic, with injured people at different places and also moving around on the platform. So during an initial headcount some may have been listed more than once, it said.
“After the seven casualties had been treated, triaged and assembled to the designated location, no other person on the platform indicated the need for ambulance service,” it said.
“For a multiple casualties incident similar to that in Prince Edward station, it is rather common to have the initial headcount being updated.”
Police have also repeatedly rejected claims there were any deaths. The MTR Corp also denied the rumours while the Hospital Authority said it had no records of any deaths related to the incident.
Despite the clarifications, people continued to leave white flowers and other mourning symbols at an exit of Prince Edward station on Saturday evening, with a few protesters kneeling.
Tattoo artist Clara Jade, 23, knelt for 2½ hours and said she wanted to protest peacefully for justice. “I feel like I owe something to the victims and their families – I want to know the truth,” she said.
Gerald, 24, had knelt for an hour and intended to keep doing so until the sun went down, stressing the need for police accountability.
The MTR shut Prince Edward station again on Saturday afternoon after a dozen protesters gathered calling for the release of CCTV footage for August 31.
That followed the station’s closure during Friday’s rush hours after crowds gathered.
Pan-democrat lawmaker James To Kun-sun said the government’s clarification did little to alleviate public worries.
“Against a backdrop of a government with no credibility, only the full release of the relevant video clips can pacify the worried and dissatisfied public,” he said.