China Compares Hong Kong Protesters to Islamic State

Protesters stand on improvised barricades after a march against a controversial extradition bill in Hong Kong on July 21, 2019. - Masked protesters threw eggs at China's office in Hong Kong on July 21 following another massive rally, focusing anger towards the embodiment of Beijing's rule with no end in …
VIVEK PRAKASH/AFP/Getty Images

China’s Global Times state newspaper ran a column Thursday urging a ban on wearing masks at protests, comparing the Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters’ preference for wearing black and carrying gas masks to protect from tear gas to the aesthetic of the Islamic State.

Protesters, who rose up in a millions-strong movement against Communist Party repression in June, adopted black as their color to mourn the death of Hong Kong’s freedoms under China; they began wearing masks because police attacks made them necessary to protect from inhaling tear gas or pepper spray. Some also wear goggles or other protective gear to defend against the use of rubber bullets and bean bag rounds, though this has not always been successful. In one example that became emblematic last month of police brutality against protesters, a young woman lost her eye after police fired a bean bag round into her face at short range.

“In movies, masked people cloaked in black are almost always bandits who kill and plunder. Such image is also typical of a member of the Islamic State,” Zhi Zhengeng, a “research fellow” writing for the Global Times propaganda outlet, observed. “However, in the riots that started after the anti-extradition bill protests morphed into a so-called ‘pro-democracy movement’ during the last three months, the belligerent protesters acted violently under the garb of masks and black clothes.”

The protest movement has been largely peaceful outside of violent attacks by police and pro-China mobs with ties to organized crime, a fact Zhi omits from his piece.

Zhi argued that Hong Kong must begin regulating how people dress to prevent protesters from protecting themselves from tear gas.

“Black clothes and masks give these cowards the guts to do evil,” Zhi wrote. “Hong Kong’s social order has been sabotaged, its rule of law trodden upon and its economy hard to be revived.”

Zhi then went on to list laws in the West that would allegedly block the Hong Kong protesters from dressing as they do if applied in their city today. To find a similar law in the British legal tradition, which informs U.S. law, Zhi had to go back to 1723. The “Waltham Black Act,” designed to prevent poachers from using black as camouflage in killing livestock they did not own, justifies a crackdown on the Hong Kong protesters in Zhi’s estimation.

Wearing black and protecting their faces with masks “makes these protesters feel that they may escape from punishment by luck,” the author claimed, adding that “almost all masked protests are accompanied by violence.”

“More and more Hong Kong residents appeal for laws that ban protesters from masking, so as to prevent the situation from escalating. However, the appeal was strongly opposed by some opposition forces, which also reflects that such a law, if enacted, would be effective,” the Global Times column added, without providing any evidence for the alleged widespread support for these laws. Similarly, the column declared, “It has been found that masked protesters tend to be more liable to commit violent crimes.”

Since the rise of the Islamic State in 2014, the Chinese Communist Party has not shied away from condemning radical Islam and using it as an excuse to persecute political dissidents. In 2015, a senior Chinese official alleged that the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of Tibetan Buddhists, was an Islamic State sympathizer. The Dalai Lama had urged “dialogue” with jihadis – many of them young men growing up in comfortably middle class Western homes – to end the violence.

“By saying, ‘listen, understand and respect’ them, it exposes, in his very bones, his sympathy or endorsement for ISIS,” Chinese Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee chairman Zhu Weiqun said at the time.

The Chinese regime also uses terrorism as an excuse to imprison Muslims – particularly those of Uighur, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz ethnic backgrounds – in concentration camps in western Xinjiang state. Beijing calls the camps “vocational training centers,” despite widespread reports of slave labor, torture, rape, and organ harvesting. American officials believe China is holding as many as three million Muslims in concentration camps.

Protests in Hong Kong have continued for nearly 15 weeks. The protesters are making five demands on their government to help democratize the city: the withdrawal of a legislative proposal to allow China to extradite anyone from Hong Kong; freedom for political prisoners, an investigation into police brutality, an end to the government calling protesters “rioters,” and direct election of lawmakers.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced this month the full withdrawal of the extradition bill, urging protesters to stop. The protesters have now adopted the slogan “five key demands, not one less” to emphasize that the end of the extradition bill is not enough for them.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong’s government began floating the possibility of banning face coverings, as well as instituting emergency measures to limit freedom of movement and assembly as a means to stop the protests.

“The use of the Emergency Regulations Ordinances requires a consideration of many factors and influences. This is something we are continuing to study to deal with the situation in Hong Kong,” Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng said. “As for the law banning masks, we have heard many opinions on this as [the law] has been brought up before these few months. On this point, we are also conducting legal research.”

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