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Hong Kong's Face Mask Ban Made the Protests a Whole Lot Worse

The first weekend of protests since the mask ban came into effect got very violent.

by David Gilbert
07 October 2019, 12:51pm

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Hong Kong was paralysed over the weekend as protesters responded violently to a ban on face masks. Protesters marched by the thousands, threw Molotov cocktails, and beat a taxi driver unconscious after he plowed into a group of protesters.

Pro-democracy protesters reacted angrily to the implementation of emergency legislation that the government had hoped would restore order to a city reeling from four months of demonstrations. Many protesters fear it will pave the way for more authoritarian rule by the Beijing-backed government.

In a bid to limit protesters' ability to march over the weekend, the government shut down public transport networks, and many Chinese-owned businesses shut their doors.

Protesters were not deterred: on Sunday, tens of thousands of people marched through the city, marking the 18th consecutive weekend of protests. Many wore masks in defiance of the ban, and while the protest began peacefully, violence erupted when police tried to disperse the crowds.

Protesters attacked subway stations and businesses with stones and Molotov cocktails as police responded with tear gas and pepper spray.

In one troubling incident, a taxi driver was captured on video driving into a mass of protesters, injuring three people, including one 23-year-old woman who protesters say won’t be able to walk again.

Protesters then dragged the driver out of the cab and beat him, an attack that was captured on video. The police told CNN the driver was unconscious by the time he was rescued, and hospital authorities said he remains in a serious condition.

READ: Hong Kong's face mask ban is just pissing people off

A few hundred protesters also targeted a People’s Liberation Army barracks in the city with laser lights, the first such interaction between protesters and the Chinese military during the four months of protests. The Chinese military has so far taken a back seat during the anti-government protests, but the PLA warned protesters they would be arrested if demonstrations continued.

READ: Chinese military vehicles just entered Hong Kong. Beijing says there’s nothing to worry about.

On Saturday, a male university student and a 38-year-old woman became the first two protesters charged under the new anti-mask law. When they appeared in court on Monday and were released on bail, dozens of supporters showed up wearing masks in another show of defiance.

The mask ban marks the first time in almost half a century that Hong Kong’s rulers have enacted emergency legislation, handing chief executive Carrie Lam almost unlimited powers. Activists are now worried about a heavy-handed crackdown on civil liberties, and Lam has already suggested imposing a curfew to limit the protests.

READ: Hong Kong cops shot him in the chest. Now they've charged this protester with rioting.

A Cabinet minister said Monday that the government would not rule out censoring the internet in a bid to regain control of the city.

“At this stage, the government will consider all legal means to stop the riots," Ip Kwok Him, a veteran pro-Beijing politician told Commercial Radio. “We would not rule out a ban on the internet.”

Cover: Protesters wearing face mask march on a street in Hong Kong, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. A group of pro-democracy Hong Kong legislators filed a legal challenge against the government's use of a colonial-era emergency law to criminalize the wearing of masks at rallies to quell anti-government demonstrations, which diminished in intensity but didn't stop. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)