Chinese state media accuses MTR of helping protesters

Flight attendant Rebecca Sy said yesterday that Cathay Pacific dismissed her over Facebook posts linked to the protests.
Flight attendant Rebecca Sy said yesterday that Cathay Pacific dismissed her over Facebook posts linked to the protests.

BEIJING • China's state-run media has launched a coordinated attack on the company that runs Hong Kong's train network for its perceived support of pro-democracy protesters, echoing a campaign against Cathay Pacific Airways.

As hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in the financial hub approach their third month of rallying for democratic reforms, Beijing has increased its rhetoric against the movement - and any organisation appearing to support it.

On Thursday, state-backed media outlets, including Xinhua and The Global Times, accused Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway (MTR) of abetting protesters by offering them a free and "exclusive" train to escape police, after a sit-in to mark a mob attack by suspected triad gang members one month earlier.

MTR "is telling Hong Kong society that radical demonstrators who have committed violent acts not only can avoid arrest by police, but are ultimately able to enjoy free, special treatment", the nationalist Global Times wrote in a Chinese-language op-ed.

But MTR Corporation - in which the Hong Kong government remains a majority stakeholder - said that the trains were meant to help stranded passengers. To ensure the safety of travellers and staff, the company said it had arranged for trains with passengers on board to avoid stopping at stations where there were "police actions to disperse the crowds".

Empty trains, however, were also dispatched to pick up individuals who "might wish to leave stations as soon as possible", said MTR, which also condemned the vandalism of train stations by some protesters.

MTR is the latest Hong Kong company to feel the heat from Beijing's hardening rhetoric over the anti-government protests that have plunged Hong Kong into crisis.

Last week, Cathay Pacific announced the shock resignation of its chief executive officer after the carrier was excoriated by Beijing because some staff supported pro-democracy protests and had joined a city-wide strike earlier this month.

The Chinese aviation regulator then demanded that Cathay prevent such employees from working on flights to the mainland or those routed through Chinese airspace.


Yesterday, a flight attendant accused Cathay Pacific of summarily firing her over Facebook posts linked to the protests.

Ms Rebecca Sy, who worked for the airline's regional arm Cathay Dragon and is also a union leader, said she was pulled off a rota to fly to China and summarily dismissed the next day, Aug 21.

Management showed her Facebook posts discussing the political situation, Ms Sy said, but added that she was not formally given a reason for her sacking.

"All my colleagues are terrified because of this 'white terror'," she said, using a widely used term for Chinese pressure on Hong Kong.

In a statement yesterday, Cathay Pacific's corporate affairs boss James Tong did not address Ms Sy's dismissal. "We are a leading international airline... and therefore we are required to comply with all applicable laws and regulations in the jurisdictions where we operate," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2019, with the headline 'Chinese state media accuses MTR of helping protesters'. Print Edition | Subscribe