Will the truth of 831 set us free? What really happened inside Prince Edward MTR?
“I have been living in fear and disguise for a year. I had to be silent, because I was scared of what the Hong Kong police or the CCP might do to me and my family. The truth is, I am tired of hiding. Why should I? I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“What’s your name? What’s your name?” A female journalist’s yells pierced the air as the evacuation warnings on the platform of Prince Edward MTR station rang. At first Jim didn’t know how to react, but as he slowly awoke from the shock of being pressed down by a riot police, he knew he had to make himself known. He stared dazed at the camera pointed at him; his pupils were dark as the night sky, his eyes were wide but distant. Suddenly, his voice broke beyond his black face mask: “Wong Mau Chun.” As Wong was being pressed on the ground, another protester in an olive green tee whacked the riot police officer’s back with an umbrella, trying to help Wong run free. Jim recalled with gratitude, “To this date, I am really thankful to the stranger for trying to save my life and risking his own. Because later that night, I saw him covered in blood from his head down after being beaten badly by a group of riot police.”
This is the story of a lost boy and the theft of youth and freedom.
It would be surprising to find someone in Hong Kong who does not know about the attack inside Prince Edward MTR station on the night of August 31, 2019. In a horrifying video which has circulated on the internet, you could see Jim Wong Mau Chun bouncing up as soon as the riot police turned around. He ran as fast as he could while being chased by other special tactical squad members. The police cornered the passengers on the platform onto an escalator, where they were squashed, pepper sprayed, and beaten by the police. Nearby 30 people were packed like a tin of sardines on the escalator while being beaten.
That was just the beginning of Wong’s nightmare.
Wong Mau Chun is one of many arrestees at Prince Edward MTR station on August 31, 2019, also known as 831Attack. Since the police’s arbitrary attack on citizens on the night, for over a year Wong was referred to by all sorts of nicknames: big-eyed comrade, Prince Edward comrade, Johnny, and of course, erroneously, Hon Bo Sang. Many people thought Wong was dead. Every month, there is a memorial altar set right outside Prince Edward MTR station, to remember the wounded, the missing, even the allegedly dead. We have to say allegedly because to this very date, no one can tell where the missing went. Wong was just one of them. After mourning him as Hon Bo Sang for nearly a year, many citizens wondered and even questioned why he would suddenly come back from the dead. Unsure of what really happened on that night, many were suspicious that his resurrection is a conspiracy by the CCP. At the point of writing this article, we know many will still question his authenticity.
So why now? Why did Wong decide to surface now? How does he feel about people getting his name wrong? “I honestly don’t know how people got my name mixed up, perhaps it was in a moment of fright and chaos.” A sense of helplessness comes through as Jim exhales. Could confusion be one of the many possibilities? “My actual real name is also on the list of the trial in court. The police mocked me every time I went to the station to report my presence.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be dead?” That’s how Hong Kong police greeted Jim for a year.
If you have seen a flyer depicting the face of a young fellow pressed on the floor with big bold eyes and a black mask, then you have seen Jim Wong. Jim’s face was everywhere on flyers related to police brutality and the anti-extradition protest since August 31, 2019.
Seeing his own face on every protest poster about police abusing their power, Wong felt conflicted. On one hand, he thought if his face could help spread awareness of police brutality, then it would be for the greater good of the movement. On the other, he was concerned for his and his family’s safety.
“As soon as I was finally released on bail from San Uk Ling, I was being followed. I didn’t know if they were Hong Kong police, or secret police from China. My family and I aren’t rich. We live in a public housing estate. I had to disguise myself so that no one could recognise me. For a year. Can you imagine? Everywhere I went, I had to cover my tracks. There were many times I wanted to come to light and say something to the public. However, my lawyer told me to stay low and not cause any trouble or do anything to draw attention from the police or the government. I did, however, use an alias to conduct interviews with different media outlets. That was the only thing I could do. I felt emotionally drained and helpless.”
We cannot imagine what it’s like to be living in fear every single day. 24/7.
On September 20th 2019, the Hong Kong police informed Wong that he could potentially be charged with up to nine criminal charges.
Being charged changed everything for Wong. Wong’s attorney told him not to cause any trouble in the meantime, while they both prayed the police would forget about pinning Wong with crimes he didn’t commit. Unfortunately, the Hong Kong police were determined. The dangling fear lasted months, until June 22, 2020, when Wong was officially charged with 9 crimes, including common assault, criminal damage, robbery, and rioting; his trial was fixed for a date after the national security law was imposed on July 1 2020.
Police said Wong was responsible for damaging the CCTV inside Prince Edward MTR station. Ironically, Wong was actually on the train platform around the same time. “I know it is not fair. The system is not fair. The police can charge us (protesters) with whatever crime they want. There is nothing we can do. If we get beat, all we can do is sit and be quiet.”
Wong paused and continued, “Just like when we were taken to the car park in Kwai Chung MTR Station. The police randomly shoved belongings and gear onto the arrestees, demanded us to put on the gear and have our photos taken. Some people even shouted, “Sir, that is not mine.” It didn’t do any good. That is how corrupt and twisted the Hong Kong police are. I had a bag with no protest gear and ended up with two bags and gear that didn’t belong to me.” From one count of illegal assembly on the night, to now 9 counts of crimes, Jim has lost all faith in the Hong Kong judicial system.
“When I realised I was about to go to jail for crimes I didn’t commit, I had to make a choice.” Jim had to choose between fight or flight. Fighting would mean going to jail. Flight would mean losing his home, possibly forever.
If we were in Jim’s shoes, we wouldn’t know which one to choose. Both options are terrible.
Jim went home one night to have dinner with his family for the last time. He tried to say farewell to his family without being direct so his parents wouldn’t get upset. “I didn’t want my dad to cry. He is a softie.” Sighing slightly, Jim added,” I couldn’t bring myself to tell my parents, that once I leave, it might be the last time we would see each other.”
His family didn’t know his departure until he had already left. Jim was filled with regret. But he knew leaving Hong Kong was the right thing to do. The only thing left to do.
“If leaving and losing my home will allow me to tell my story and save other brothers and sisters, I think it is worthwhile. Hong Kongers have sacrificed too much. I ought to be brave for my family.” Like Nathan Law, Simon Cheng, Jim Wong Mau Chun also thinks speaking out and cutting ties with his family potentially might ensure his family’s safety. Like many other protesters, Jim is is also fearful of being disappeared.
When Jim went off the radar for a year, when the public was looking for him, and when everyone thought he was dead or extradited to China somewhere and being tortured and illegally detained. The cruel fact is he didn’t disappear, he was just living in darkness. He was keeping a secret that he couldn’t share with anyone else but himself. Rumours were flying and Jim heard every one of them. That seems worse than being dead.
Citizens also strongly believed that someone had died in the station that night because of police violence. This meant that any attempt to straighten out the facts would be met with passionate resistance and understandable suspicion.
Jim does not blame them. He can understand the public’s concerns, their desperation and despair. “I couldn’t surface. I couldn’t expose myself more than I already have. The police were planning to charge me and send me to jail at the time. I was being followed everywhere I went. I had to hide, stay silent to protect my family.” At the end of the day, no textbook in Hong Kong teaches you the how-tos of becoming Jason Bourne.
Perhaps to a lot of people, that reason might not be enough, but to Jim, his family is everything. From our conversations, you can tell how much he loves and worries for them, even more than for his own wellbeing.
To a lot of people who have been arrested, coming to the light just is not an option. The risks are too high, especially if you are being followed by the national security forces or the secret police. The stress can also be overbearing at times. Jim slowly recalled, “I didn’t understand what was happening. All I knew was I was in trouble and was abused by the police. My experience of police brutality made me angry and helpless. No one could help me. I feel a lot of resentment and anger. I feel like my life was ruined by the police. I only went to a peaceful assembly, and came back being called a criminal. I had to give up my home. I cannot really comprehend the magnitude of it.”
Have you ever felt like you want to scream, but your mouth is duct-taped at the same time? No matter how loud you shout, nothing comes out. Jim felt that way as he illustrated what happened that night. “I know many people want to know what happened inside the station that night. But I also know many people want to hear if someone died in the station. I am scared if I speak the truth, my truth, it is not the truth that people want to hear. Besides, what I say might affect others who are now also charged and on trial.”
From Jim’s narrative, you could feel his pain, the dilemma he has been trapped in. He is stuck between the truth and the myths of 831. With citizens’s distrust of the government at stratospheric levels, Jim’s worries of being extradited without a fair trial or being attacked by PR are justifiable.
He scratched his thumb against his lighter, and exhaled deeply. Obviously, reliving the memories is still trembling for Jim.
The beginning of the end
Below is Jim’s description of his experience and his eye-witness account of August 31, 2019. We have cross referenced the details of his description with hours of footage, reliable resources, evidence and investigations conducted by RTHK, SoRec and Factwire, and can validate that Jim was on the platform that night and IS the person who was pinned down, ran to the escalator and then got caught by police facing the wall.
“On the night of August 31, 2019, I was going to Causeway Bay from Admiralty after attending a peaceful assembly. When I arrived in Causeway Bay, police had already set up their defence line; some people were burning debris, while others were trying to head towards Wan Chai. But before the protesters could go further, water cannons were charging towards them. By the time the protesters were pushed back to Causeway Bay, some CID police started firing near the Park Lane Hotel, outside Victoria Park. We were cornered. There was nowhere for people to run to. So some protesters decided to leave Causeway Bay and go to Mongkok to back up the protest in Tsim Sha Tsui. I decided to grab something to eat alone in Prince Edward and headed there by MTR.”
That was a big mistake.
- On the platforms -
Jim continued, “While I was on the platform in Mongkok for a transit, about 20–30 protesters were also leaving. Suddenly, a middle-aged man who claimed to be a reporter, said some CID had arrested two protesters on the platform, so we went to the second platform to take a look. When we got there, we heard riot police shouting “Freeze! Cockroaches!” When we realise it was a trap, we all ran to the lowest platform and inside a train towards Prince Edward. On the train, most of us were dressed as protesters; three middle aged men were not happy about it and started arguing. They were obviously blue ribbons (pro-Police and government). “You are not Chinese. You are rioters.” They shouted. It was because we were dressed in black. Some protesters yelled back and said everyone there was just for the train. No one asked for their opinions. The argument heated as the train approached Prince Edward.”
When we asked why these three men went on the train “prepared”, Jim could not think of anything else other than it was premeditated. All three men had weapons: hammer, chopping knife, Stanley’s knife.
“One of the men in white shirt decided to physically push some of the protesters, while the other two were ready to attack with their weapons. Some were trying to stop the fight but it became chaotic after the men pushed and attacked a reporter. The man in white shirt then took out a Stanley knife while the man in blue took out a hammer and attacked other passengers and myself.” Jim described in detail.
Other passengers had to defend themselves from these three mad men using whatever they had on hand — water bottles, umbrella and helmets. That was all they had.
The train had already stopped and arrived Prince Edward at that time.
Jim inhaled again deeply before carrying on.
“A woman named Lam (a police later told me her name) was filming protesters on the train with her cell phone. She tried to provoke a fight by shouting at us. She suddenly pulled my shirt. I fell backwards and onto the ground. She refused to let me go. She grabbed me and took photos of me. Other people were trying to separate her from me. She wouldn’t let go. Lam dropped her cell phone and glasses in the midst of chaos. A protester took a fire extinguisher and sprayed at the attackers to buy us some time so we could escape from them and leave the train compartment. Everyone was removing their gear before leaving the train, just in case if police were outside. As I was trying to gather my belongings, someone told me to leave them and just run. So I did.” Jim did not have any gear with him from this point on.
Little did Jim know he was about to be ambushed by a riot police. He ran to the end of the platform before being pinned down onto the ground by a policeman; the officer held him down with his knees on Jim’s back. This was when the female journalist asked him what his name was.
“We were chased by a dozen riot police and cornered at the escalator. Police were on both ends of it. There was nowhere for us to go. The riot police on the upper end were beating their shields to scare us, while the ones at the bottom of the escalator pepper sprayed us.”
From the sound of it, passengers became a bunch of frightened animals in a small cage.
“The police kept telling us to lower our heads. If we didn’t, they would beat our heads with their batons. That’s why some people were bleeding badly and were emotionally distressed. Others were also unconscious.” Jim explained what the public had a glimpse of before all the reporters were kicked out of the station by the police.
If you think this was atrocious, the riot police from the upper end walked down the escalator by trampling on the people who were stuck on the escalator to get past. The petrified and injured passengers were held against the wall for an hour before police backup eventually arrived at the scene.
Some of the passengers asked the police to allow the unconscious and injured medical treatment. The police’s response was “You can wait a while. You deserve to die.”
That night, about 60 people were taken onto platform 3 and 4 in Prince Edward MTR station. At the end of the platforms, all Jim could see was arrestees and the wounded. Medics were nowhere to be found. That’s because they were all locked out at the entrances by the police. Police wouldn’t let them in.
The boy in olive green tee who saved Jim a while ago was now covered in blood from his head down.
Jim shook guiltily, “he was just sitting there, in shock… There were others too. Some were lying on the floor motionless. Some couldn’t breathe. The police surrounded people and threatened them with their weapons, telling them to keep quiet.”
“Do you know what happened to the motionless people?”
“I don’t. I did not see them again that night.”
The police showed no signs of sympathy. They mocked the wounded and told them to quit acting.
Police brutality carried on throughout the night. “If you move one more time, I will knock your teeth out!” Jim remembered those words clearly. He was scared for his life while his hands were tied to his back, kneeling on the ground for over an hour.
After an endless wait, the police finally arranged some of them to be taken to different police stations by train. Police didn’t want to leave from the entrances of the station that night. They didn’t take the arrestees by police vehicles. The wounded didn’t get into any ambulances.
Jim was held from 22:30 that night, charged with illegal assembly by midnight and taken to Kwai Chung police station at around 02:30 on September 1.
While Jim was waiting, a policeman went up to him and started talking, playing “nice” to fish for information. Jim remained silent. Being ignored, the policeman regressed to his hostile self, and asked,”who is your triad leader? How much do you get paid to attend a protest?”
Jim did tell the policeman calmly that protesters do not go to protests because of money, they go because of their beliefs. When Jim asked him what his questions meant, the policemen swung his fist across Jim’s face. The same policeman also threatened Wong, “wait til we get to the station, I will have plenty of time to mess with you.”
Jim and other arrestees were taken to Lai Chi Kok to continue their journey to the police station by coach buses. On the coach, policemen kept shining their flashlights into the arrestees’s faces. As if the torment was not enough, the policemen added, “I am gonna teach you a lesson.” “You are all low life animals.”
Police laughed their way to Kwai Chung police station.
- Kwai Chung police station -
Once the arrestees arrived at the station, they were all “seated” at the indoor car park. There was no ventilation, no sitting area. It was the hottest time of the Hong Kong humid summer.
“During The 7-hour registration, police had to take photos for evidence collection. The arrestees were given belongings that didn’t belong to them. “The police asked us to wear whatever gear they found to take photos as evidence. One of the policemen shoved me an extra bag that was not mine. He handed me some gloves, a gas mask, saline and first aid supplies.”
Discovering justice is not on your side is beyond chilling, especially when you are being held by policemen.
Many of the arrestees felt ill and requested medical attention — including Jim. He was suffering from physical pain. Hong Kong police again brushed off the detainees’ basic human rights as if they were nothing. In the police’s eyes, these civilians deserve to be beaten and arrested.
“People were exhausted. We all just lay on the floor. For hours, the police wouldn’t arrange medical treatment for us. We had nothing to go into our stomaches until lunchtime. They only gave us plain white rice with soy sauce. I had no appetite.”
Jim was treated like a prisoner, before even he was found guilty.
Police continued to ignore Jim’s request for legal assistance and medical treatment. It didn’t come to us as a surprise when Jim mentioned the police were “pairing” evidence with whoever they wanted. The story sounds all too familiar.
Jim’s original bag had no weapons or suo-called ‘riot gear’, and with the additional “evidence” the police gave him, could it be possible that the police thought by having detainees wear gas masks or gloves they would have proof of crime?
At the time while Jim was praying for someone to come to his rescue, he was being stripped and searched. This happened six to seven times throughout the night.
“I was standing there in only my underwear. It was humiliating. Later on when they finally took me to the hospital, I was handcuffed and chained. Thankfully, because of the nurses at the hospital, I was fed and comforted. They gave me a legal aid number. It was only because they had to take xrays that the police finally took the cuffs off. I am grateful to the hospital staff for looking after me and helping me.”
Jim was suffering from multiple injuries, on his chest, right shoulder and face. The nurses did several X-rays. His lawyer also found him at the hospital. Jim was at the hospital for four or five hours before the police took him back to Kwai Chung Police Station car park.
The police brutality didn’t end there.
- Inside San Uk Ling -
Jim was naive to think that police couldn’t punish him anymore since he had already been checked out medically. That they could no longer leave a mark on him. Not physically anyway. So he shouted “Hong Kong police are the most evil and ugliest of all!” He was then thrown into the “smelly cubicle”, which is a confinement space that is tiny and dark, with nothing but a foul toilet and stone-cold concrete bench.
“I will never forget the dark and the endless corridor I had to walk through to get to that horrible space.”
Around 6am, Jim was woken up to be searched again before the detainees were sent to infamous detention center at San Uk Ling.
You can consider San Uk Ling as the Guantanamo Bay of Hong Kong. It’s ten minutes from China border, a very thin line where most Hong Kongers believe illegal extradition can take place. Some also believe that San Uk Ling will be the next Xinjiang mega concentration camp in and for Hong Kong.
Although Jim was one of the few lucky ones who didn’t get beaten up in San Uk Ling, the police made sure the arrestees stayed as long as possible. Police had denied their rights to food and contacting lawyers.
That night, several lawyers had issues locating the remote detention center in the middle of nowhere. They stood outside the gate of San Uk Ling detention center in attempt to offer legal aid to the arrested civilians, but they were given nothing but trouble. The police wouldn’t let them in. They stood in the dark for hours before police finally let the lawyers in.
We can’t help but wonder: What happened to the civilised Hong Kong society that everyone was familiar with?
“We were waiting for a long time in San Uk Ling. We had no idea what was happening, where we were going, or what we were doing. Police never told us anything. I was waiting there from 0600 to 2200 before I could get a bail. The police were just stalling and making sure our life was hell.”
From being pinned down on a train platform at Prince Edward station to sitting in the dark next to a fermented toilet in San Uk Ling, Jim’s detention was about 46 hours long. Most would agree his experience was far more fortunate than others who have been arrested since the anti-extradition protests began in 2019. Many of the arrestees have suffered from not only physical disabilities or inconvenience, they are also scarred with emotional trauma that will haunt them for a lifetime. Wounds can heal but emotional damage can never be fully cured.
During our two hours chat with Jim, we can appreciate why he fled Hong Kong. The injustice Jim experienced in the police stations, the ongoing unfair trials by pro-government judges and a DOJ who doesn’t deserve to serve the rule of law and the people of Hong Kong, all combine to explain his decision. Nothing gave Jim any reassurance that he would get a fair trial or justice. The only fight remaining seemed to be anywhere but Hong Kong.
“If I go to prison, I cannot help other brothers and sisters. However, if I become an exile, at least I can make my story heard all over the world. We need other countries’s support and I can’t do that in jail.” Jim had made his clear choice not only for himself, but for his fellow Hong Kongers who seek justice and freedom for Hong Kong.
Will Jim’s story set Hong Kong free from the nightmares of #831PrinceEdwardAttack? Possibly not, but at the very least, we hope a glimpse of truth is a glimpse of hope for Hong Kong.
Jim’s next mission is to make the world knows how being young is a crime in Hong Kong.
Nova Skye, James William, Becky Chan of The Yellow Journalism
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