Kai was with his girlfriend Leena on a Saturday afternoon, wearing face masks as they waited for the subway to get groceries. Then a man and a woman began talking to them, at first asking the couple where they were from and then shouting “Are you from Wuhan?” and calling “Chinese virus”.
“They were imitating the Chinese language, using slurs. I thought this was too much so I used the F-word and at the time I thought that was the end of it. My girlfriend said maybe we should take the other subway line [to get away from the couple], but I thought it wasn't a huge deal so we didn't,” he told The Local.
Once on the train, the couple approached Kai and Leena again, and Kai says the man began to threaten them. Speaking Swedish, Leena told them to leave them alone, but the couple say the man kept threatening the two, shouting at them to “take off the fucking masks”.
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“The man got dangerously close to Kai and said something along the lines of 'I'll beat you up'. I sensed the worse, and hoping to protect him I did my best to get between Kai and the man, since I believed the man would then come to his senses. I was hoping he wouldn't be angry enough to hit a very short woman, 157 cm, when I was merely in his way,” said Leena.
Despite trying to block a fight, the unknown man hit Leena several times in the head, who was knocked to the floor. She suffered a concussion as well as injuries to her face, head, arm and leg, and her glasses were broken. Kai also suffered injuries to his face, and both of their masks were torn.
The couple say that several other passengers quickly came to their aid once the fight broke out, and helped Leena up from the floor. Another took a video of the incident and later sent it to the couple to be used as evidence.
Leena's glasses were broken in the attack. Photo: Private
At this point Kai hit back at their attacker, punching him.
He says he has experienced what he suspects is racial discrimination in Sweden before, but never violence, and he was shocked by the incident, although he acknowledges it was wrong to hit back. “I should have listened to my girlfriend and taken the other train line, but this behaviour is wrong. I think if I'd walked away and said nothing they would think you can just bully Chinese people and say whatever they want, even if fighting back wasn't the right decision.”
He added: “I really want to say thank you to the people that helped us. I think I believe most people are good because most people on the train helped us, but at the moment I do feel unsafe to be on the train wearing a mask. I don't understand, I'm not hurting anyone, I'm [wearing the mask] to try to help other people and stop the virus from spreading. I want people to be careful, especially if you're a minority.”
The couple reported the incident to police with assistance from some fellow passengers, and also spoke to The Swedish Crime Victim Compensation and Support Authority.
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After sharing the incident on Facebook, Leena says several of her Asian friends said they had also experienced racial abuse and even assault, specifically during the coronavirus outbreak.
“Many of my Asian friends shared that they too have had people yell racist verbal abuse at them. One of the most detailed cases was a Chinese female friend of mine, who told me kids have yelled “Ms. Corona” after her several times,” said Leena.
“She was also assaulted in March, waiting for a bus. A man pushed her out of the blue onto the car lane, screaming “Corona Bitch!” at her. She was at first too shocked and confused to even fully register what had happened; the perpetrator played all innocent then and left the scene. She was luckily unharmed, but only because of how empty the area was. She has been honest and said that she feels scared and anxious every time she is leaving her home.”