Hong Kong protests: Defying mask ban, tens of thousands of Hongkongers hold demonstrations over the weekend

South China Morning Post

People's Liberation Army barracks issue warning in Cantonese for the first time, as mainland Chinese-linked businesses are vandalised and fires started outside closed MTR stations

South China Morning Post |

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Clouds of tear gas have little effect on an anti-government protester in Wan Chai.

Tens of thousands of protesters continued to defy the government's mask ban over the weekend, as mainland China-linked businesses were vandalised, fires were set, and police were targeted with noticeabley bigger petrol bombs.

The masked protesters smashed banks, stores and bookshops associated with mainland China, trashed government buildings and started fires at the exits of several MTR stations as they continued targeting the city’s railway operator for allegedly aiding police in their clearance operations.

After a total shutdown for 1½ days, the rail operator reopened half of its stations at midmorning Sunday, only to then close four stations and suspend the services of seven lines later after it became a target again. It closed the entire network at 9pm.

For the first time, the People’s Liberation Army barracks in Kowloon East issued a warning in Cantonese in the early evening after demonstrators shone laser lights as they walked past the buildings en route to another location. A yellow flag went up at the top of the building, warning the demonstrators as several men in uniform were seen filming the protesters and a floodlight shone on them. Nothing more came of the tense moment, however, as both sides soon cleared from the scene.

In Sham Shui Po, a taxi driver in his 60s rammed into a crowd of protesters and injured a woman. Angry masked groups then pulled the driver out of the car and beat him, before he was later rescued by firefighters. Beaten unconscious, his face and head were covered in blood while the windows of the taxi were smashed.

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Local actress Celine Ma, with blood on her face and chest, also said she was beaten by protesters because she was filming them attacking a Bank of China branch nearby.

The Hospital Authority said that, as of 11pm, 11 people were admitted to hospitals, with three in a serious condition and five stable. The condition of two was unknown, while one was discharged.

Anti-government protesters destroy a taxi and beat up the driver in Sham Shui Po after he drove into a crowd of protesters.
Photo: SCMP / K. Y. Cheng

The heightened violence on Sunday – which led to tear gas being fired in four districts – continued late into the night in Mong Kok as a source familiar with the government’s thinking told the SCMP that the new anti-mask law was not targeted at the hard-core front-liners.

“We know well hard-core violent protesters don’t care about facing an extra one-year’s imprisonment under the anti-mask law, as they could be jailed for up to 10 years if they are convicted of rioting,” the source said.

Likening the strategy to that of peeling the layers of an onion, he said: “Those in the outer layers may however fear going to jail or criminal convictions. They might think twice if they are still taking part in violent actions.”

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Police arrested 13 people between midnight on Friday and Saturday for defying the mask ban. Most were also charged with participating in an unlawful assembly.

Social media users reported that, on Sunday, among those arrested and unmasked was a 10-year-old girl, but police did not confirm the action by press time.

Earlier on Sunday, despite a thundery downpour, tens of thousands of masked protesters gathered for two concurrent marches in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, openly courting arrest as they defied the ban on face coverings. The crowds were smaller from protests in recent weekends, as protesters blamed the crippled MTR network as an impediment.

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Among those who turned up was a 61-year-old local surnamed Chan, saying the past summer marked his first time joining protests and that the mask ban had made the situation even more urgent.

“With the mask ban, the government is testing the waters,” he said. “If no one reacts to this then they can use the emergency ordinance to do anything, including interfering with the coming district elections. If the government can do anything, then Hong Kong is finished.”

At least five MTR stations were targeted by protesters. Projectiles were thrown onto the tracks of Kowloon Tong station, two exits of Mong Kok station were set on fire, while protesters also broke open fire hoses and hurled a petrol bomb into Cheung Sha Wan station through an exit.

Anti-government protesters set fire to barricades in Mong Kok on Sunday.
Photo: SCMP / Edmond So

They also blocked an exit of Yau Ma Tei MTR station with recycling materials and bamboo scaffolding, as resigned passengers – including the elderly – calmly did a limbo dance-like manoeuvre to go under the poles and get out of the station.

There was no word on whether the MTR would open as normal on Monday, but the rail operator said the Airport Express would run as usual, though would not stop at the AsiaWorld Expo station. After 1pm, trains going between Hong Kong station and the airport would not stop at Kowloon, Tsing Yi or AsiaWorld Expo, it said.

In a statement on social media, the police force expressed its strongest condemnation against the protesters whom it called “rioters” for taking the law into their own hands, citing cases of three people – including the taxi driver – who were beaten up by them. “The atrocities committed by the rioters are far beyond the bottom line of any civilised society,” it said.

Riot police arrive to clear the area as anti-government protesters rally in Wan Chai on Sunday.
Photo: SCMP / Sam Tsang

As dusk fell, riot police charged towards protesters along Hennessy Road in Wan Chai and arrested more than 10 people following a stand-off marked by rounds of tear gas and petrol bombs.

One of the petrol bombs hit an RTHK reporter, setting his raincoat and left ear on fire. He was later sent to Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai. An RTHK spokesman strongly condemned the violent acts as he called on all sides to stop their actions.

On Sunday night, the government strongly condemned masked “rioters” for their “lawless violent acts” in blocking roads, vandalising public facilities, MTR stations, banks and stores, hurling petrol bombs at police and attacking other citizens.

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“Rioters have attacked other citizens multiple times over the past days, whereas some have allegedly used a lethal weapon today which resulted in severe injury. A journalist also suffered burns after being hit by a petrol bomb from rioters,” a spokesman said, as he called on the public not to defy the anti-mask law.

China’s state media, meanwhile, continued their strong support for the anti-mask law, with a commentary in People’s Daily saying “while the anti-mask law won’t help to catch all the thugs soon, it will deliver a heavy blow to the protesters”.