Police Terrorize Illegally Masked Protesters on Halloween in Hong Kong

People in Guy Fawkes masks gather on a street in Hong Kong, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. Hong Kong authorities are bracing as pro-democracy protesters urged people on Thursday to celebrate Halloween by wearing masks on a march in defiance of a government ban on face coverings. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Kin Cheung/AP Photo

Hong Kong police employed tear gas and pepper spray against “unauthorized protests” in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island on Halloween.

The protesters were, as expected, vigorously defying Hong Kong’s ban on masks throughout the evening.

Much defiance of the mask ban has been thinly justified by an exemption for the surgical masks favored by disease-conscious residents of the crowded city. On Halloween evening, some of the protesters flaunted their defiance by wearing surgical masks over the other masks they chose to wear.

Popular choices of costume included the ever-popular Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta, masks of Chinese communist dictator Xi Jinping and/or Winnie the Pooh (to whom Xi has been compared in an unflattering manner, resulting in the lovable cartoon bear getting banned from mainland China), President Donald Trump, assorted superheroes, and the currently red-hot Batman villain Joker.

Some of the costumes were more obscure and offbeat, including people who dressed up as living Lennon Walls, a popular type of protest art in which a wall is covered with colorful Post-Its bearing slogans and messages of encouragement. One fellow captured in the Hong Kong Free Press gallery of Halloween images went with a leather plague doctor mask, which would appear to be a very deep-cut reference to a renowned bit of Internet performance art from almost five years ago.

Others dressed in ways that mocked the police or the Hong Kong administration:

The HKFP spoke with demonstrators who knew a police crackdown was coming all evening, including a 19-year-old female university student who defiantly declared, “We’re Hongkongers, we’re not afraid.”

According to the HKFP, the masquerade went fairly well until about 8:30 p.m., when someone threw a cardboard box at the assembled riot police and they raised the blue flag that ordered protesters to disperse. As they had threatened earlier in the week, police made some people on the streets remove their masks so they could be identified. 

Tear gas and pepper spray began flowing around 10:00 p.m.:

Some of the people hit by crowd-control weapons appeared to be innocent bystanders:

The HKFP reported there appears to have been a political dimension to the cancellation of the annual Ocean Park Halloween event, which was ostensibly called off due to safety concerns.

Rumor has it some of the event staff were planning to make political statements or include protest slogans in their Halloween performance, including “Hong Kong people, add oil,” a widely repeated slogan that urges the people to demand freedom with more vigor. Ocean Park staff vigorously protested against political censorship, while Hong Kong residents decried what they saw as the unnecessary shutdown of the popular attraction.

Another notable shutdown on Thursday night was the Prince Edward MTR station, the scene of a controversial August 31 police raid that has been widely denounced as excessive force. The station was closed due to concerns it would be blockaded or vandalized by protesters on the two-month anniversary of the raid.

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