Protesters marched through Hong Kong in defiance of a ban on face masks as much of the city ground to a halt on Saturday (Oct 5) with the subway suspended and swathes of shops and malls shuttered following another night of violence.
Several thousand protesters staged rallies at multiple locations, with more protests planned through the weekend.
Throughout the afternoon and evening crowds gathered in masks, though the face-mask ban went into effect early Saturday, carries a maximum jail sentence of one year and a $3,200 fine.
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam on Friday (Oct 4) invoked emergency law to ban the face masks demonstrators use to hide their identities. It’s meant to quell anti-government protests that have grown increasingly violent.
The law carries a list of exemptions, such as for health, religious, professional or employment reasons. Journalists masked for protection against tear gas while covering protests will also be exempted.
The move served to trigger one of the more violent demonstrations on Friday night. Demonstrators hurled petrol bombs at police and burned the Chinese national flag.
Protesters also set fires at train stations, as well as to an empty train, and injured two staff, added MTR, which is known for operating one of the world’s most efficient rail networks.
On Saturday, the rail network remained out of action. The published statement of MTR said that it cannot provide safe and reliable service in the circumstances.
With the MTR being paralyzed and the shopping malls shuttered, weekend in Hong Kong felt uncomfortably quiet in the morning.
Shopping malls were closed, supermarket chains said they would not open and many mainland Chinese banks stayed shuttered, their facades sprayed with graffiti.
The city began to wake in the afternoon when hundreds of people rallied through Hennessy Road.
The Hongkongers – as they called themselves – started to march from Causeway Bay, a popular shopping district to Central to protest the ban.
“The anti-face mask law is against democracy,” said Jason Liu, one of the protesters. “We want to stand up and resist all kind of tyranny like the China forces us to do. We have some freedom before and now they want taking them from us. We must do the fight now before that year 2047 has already come,” he added, referencing the year semi-autonomous Hong Kong becomes fully part of the Chinese mainland.
“Today’s rally is going to be peaceful. We prepare for tomorrow,” he continued and said the upcoming agenda would be gathering at Victora Park at 2 PM.
With more protests scheduled for Sunday (Oct 6), the sense of foreboding was inescapable across much of the city.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Carrie Lam condemned the protesters who rampaged across the city on Friday night, destroying traffic lights, spray-painting ATMs and damaging state-owned Chinese businesses.
“The radical behavior of rioters took Hong Kong through a very dark night, leaving society today half-paralysed,” she said.
“The extreme violence clearly illustrated that Hong Kong’s public safety is widely endangered. That’s the concrete reason that we had to invoke emergency law yesterday to introduce the anti-mask law.”
In Statue Square, a plaza in the historic heart of Hong Kong, the masked protesters gathered and chanted the slogans. They sprayed and wrote on the ground with paint. They cheered a man climbed on a bronze figure of Sir Thomas Jackson, a 19th-century British banker. He covered the banker’s head with one of the plastic helmets.
A few minutes later, the riot police officers charged into the plaza, briefly detained two people who wore masks and searched their backpacks. They also took a man who was wearing a bandanna over his face to a police vehicle.
Although the protesters – and several citizens walked by – yelled at the police but the law enforcement remained relatively calm. The gave statements to the press and just told people to stand back.
Police already sent text messages urging the public to avoid protests over the three-day holiday weekend.