Riots in Hong Kong as anti-mask law takes effect

Friday, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced a new law banning protesters from wearing masks. The goal is to make it easier for police to identify protesters (and no doubt also to make them more susceptible to tear gas). Here’s the announcement:

But the immediate reaction to the new law was the worst night of vandalism and rioting yet seen in the city. One of the incidents getting a lot of attention on social media was a group of protesters beating involved an undercover police officer. At some point, either before or during this attack, the officer shot a 14-year-old boy in the leg, making this the second time a protester has been shot by police. A crowd responded by setting off a firebomb which briefly engulfed the officer. It’s amazing no one was killed:

The entire rail system was also shut down and remains closed today:

Rioters ramped up their sustained campaign of destruction against the city’s rail operator, having accused it of colluding with the police force to close down stations.

In Kwun Tong, Sha Tin and Sha Tin Wai MTR stations, they destroyed turnstiles, smashed advertisement billboards and daubed graffiti on the walls and ticket machines. A train was seen with its roof on fire in Sha Tin, and in Shek Mun a water hydrant was set off, flooding the station.

As the night wore on, huge fires were lit at entrances of Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Tsuen Wan MTR stations.

By 10.30pm, they had forced the closure of every MTR station in an unprecedented shutdown of the entire railway network.

The Guardian put together this video summarizing some of the Metro vandalism:

Another target of the protesters was banks and shops connected to China.

Shops and banks with links to mainland China were also targeted by rioters. They smashed the glass facade of a Bank of China branch in Tsuen Wan and threw petrol bombs inside.

ATMs were smashed or set alight in Mong Kok and other areas.

In Central, they smashed shop windows of MX, a food chain owned by Maxim’s. Its founder’s daughter, Annie Wu, infuriated protesters last month by calling them rioters and saying they did not represent Hong Kong.

Here’s video of one of the bank branches being set on fire:


Another video getting a lot of attention today involves an officer worker for a Chinese bank. He was surrounded by protesters who began chanting at him. His co-workers tried to lead him back inside. Before reaching the door, he turned and said, “We’re all Chinese,” in Mandarin, which really angered the protesters. That resulted in someone coming forward and hitting the guy in the face several times:

I think the violence is going to be counter-productive because it will rally support for a crackdown in China. Having looked at it, I can tell you that opponents of the protesters are having a field day posting all of this video on Twitter. Today the protesters were out again, openly defying the anti-mask law:

Meanwhile, there are reports of a run on the banks and ATM’s out of cash:

People also seem to be stocking up on food and water in anticipation of trouble:

Carrie Lam released a 5-minute video denouncing the riots and calling for calm. Here’s a shortened version:

I don’t think anyone really knows what is going to happen next. So far, China hasn’t instituted a military crack-down, probably because Tiananment 2.0 would happen in an age of cell phone cameras and the internet. But it still feels like that’s where all of this is headed. The protesters are angry and many believe this is their last chance to fight for freedom from being subsumed by the mainland’s one-party, communist dictatorship. The problem is that they are a relatively small group (compared to China) of mostly unarmed people. If China does send troops it won’t be a fight, it will be a massacre.

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David Strom 8:01 AM on February 03, 2023