Update (12:30 pm ET): The backlash to Carrie Lam’s “anti-mask law” intensified late in the Hong Kong evening, resulting in the entire MTR public transit network being closed down. Protesters are preparing what would be an ‘illegal’ demonstration on Saturday as they march from Causeway Bay into down town.
From 1 pm on Saturday through the end of the day, airport-bound Express trains will be the only trains running. They will travel from Hong Kong station to Hong Kong International Airport.
The organizers of the protest are encouraging demonstrators to wear Halloween masks in a show of defiance. However, legal experts familiar with Hong Kong’s colonial-era laws said the edict will likely be extraordinarily difficult to enforce, and that a challenge in the courts could result in the ban being thrown out.
As midnight approached on Friday, HK’s High Court was still hearing two activists’ applications to have the “anti-mask” law thrown out. Counsel for the government insisted that Lam had already explained the need for the law: To combat escalating public violence associated with the demonstrations.
Ultimately, the bid to temporarily suspend the law failed, as the judges declined to grant a temporary suspension, which had been requested by protesters.
Though once again as Friday night faded into Saturday morning, protests in HK turned violent, as one group set fire to a China Travel Services branch in Sha Tin.
— SCMP Hong Kong (@SCMPHongKong) October 4, 2019
Per SCMP, several rounds of tear gas were fired by HK police in Aberdeen, marking what’s believed to be the first time that tear gas was fired in the southern district since the protests began.
Meanwhile, the Tin Fu Light Rail stop in Tin Shui Wai has been set on fire (one reason why the MTR was shut down).
Though as of 11:30 pm local time, most protesters who had gathered near the corner of Hennessy Road and Johnston Road near the border of Wan Chai and Admiralty had left the area. Those who didn’t leave voluntarily were reportedly threatened by police, who warned that protesters lingering around Lung Cheung Road must either leave or risk being sprayed with tear gas and rubber bullets.
A few dozen refused to move, and became embroiled in another skirmish with police.
As the chaos worsened, medical personnel confirmed to the SCMP that a 14-year-old protester had been shot with live ammunition, presumably by an officer, though the paper hesitated to confirm as much.
And shortly before midnight, a video taken earlier in the day emerged online purporting to show the moment that a plain-clothes police officer was attacked by protesters. The assailants even went so far as to throw a petrol bomb at the officer, mirroring circumstances that prompted HK police to shoot a teenage demonstrator earlier this week.
A clip online shows a police officer being attacked by protesters. A petrol bomb was thrown at him and his shoes were briefly on fire. He dropped his gun as he got away.
As a protester tried to grab the gun, the officer rushed at him and kicked it aside.
Source: Online video pic.twitter.com/PnPavQiZp4
— SCMP Hong Kong (@SCMPHongKong) October 4, 2019
The attack took place in Yuen Long, but it wasn’t the only assault on a police officer as the protests escalated late Friday into Saturday morning.
HK Police said in a statement that an officer was forced to fire a live round as a large group of protesters encircled him.
“The officer fell to the ground, he fired one shot as his life was under serious threat,” it said. The officer caught fire twice due to petrol bombs being thrown at him. In the statement, the police condemned “rioters for attacking officers and risking the lives of others.”
The officer’s magazine got lost in the struggle, prompting the police to ask the public for its swift return.
Meanwhile, as midnight rolled around, the regulation prohibiting face covering went into effect. The law bars anyone from covering their faces with mask or paint while attending a public gathering consisting of more than 50 participants, or any unauthorized assembly.
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Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam thought invoking a colonial-era emergency powers law to prohibit wearing masks in public might calm the increasingly violent protests that have rocked her city for more than four months now. But apparently, that was a miscalculation.
Lam invoked the law Friday morning following a special meeting of the city’s executive council. “As the current situation has clearly given rise to a state of serious public danger, the executive council decided this morning to invoke the power under the emergency regulations ordinance and make a new regulation in the prohibition of face covering – which is essentially an anti-mask law.”
The regulation “targets rioters” Lam said, which is why it contains “exemptions” for those with legitimate need to wear a mask (wearing face masks became common in Hong Kong after the 2003 SARS outbreak).
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) October 4, 2019
SCMP’s sources said the new law could involve jail terms of up to one year or a fine of HK$25,000 (about $3,000), and will apply to lawful assemblies as well as unsanctioned gatherings.
Though the regulation doesn’t take effect until midnight, Lam’s pronouncement sent hundreds of people into the streets for an impromptu protest. At Yoho Mall in Yuen Long, hundreds of mostly masked students gathered to chant: “Hongkongers, resist!”
Some malls in the heart of the city are shutting down, including the mall-office tower of the World Trade Center in Causeway Bay. Several companies, including accounting giant Ernst & Young, advised their employees to work from home as protesters gathered during a week day, something that hasn’t happened in months, to protest Lam’s edict.
Crowds gathered across the city…
— Bloomberg Politics (@bpolitics) October 4, 2019
…with most protesters wearing their masks.
One reporter said she “really felt people’s anger in the air” after the ban.
Now on Pedder Street, Central: crowd gathering after the HK government announced a face mask ban in public gatherings at 3pm. The ban is going to go live at midnight today. Nearby malls are closing now and many office workers have left early. Really felt ppl’s anger in the air. pic.twitter.com/Z6SqZj0nLM
— Liu Hsiu Wen 劉修彣 (@liuhsiuwen) October 4, 2019
Of course, the reason demonstrators are so angry is that face masks have become an important tool of the protests. Many protesters wear them to hide their identity due to fears employers could face pressure to take action against them.
Then again, in a city of 7.4 million where many wear masks for health-related reasons, it remains unclear how Lam will enforce the law.
Protest leaders are calling for participants to wear their masks during a march planned for Saturday starting in Causeway Bay to the government’s headquarters in the Admiralty district.
Protesters are being told to wear Halloween masks as a gesture of defiance, BBG reports.
As protesters gathered in down town Hong Kong, two people climbed atop an overpass and tore down a banner celebrating China’s 70th anniversary of Communist Party rule.
“It just infuriates us,” said one protester, 30, who gave only his surname Chan. “More people will just take to the street to oppose this ridiculous and useless government.”
One thing is for sure: this represents a change of tack for Lam’s government, which had earlier tried appeasing the protesters by formally abandon the extradition bill that had initially sparked the protest movement. Now, it’s cracking down on public disorder in a manner that will, if nothing else, make Beijing happy.