By Jennifer Creery, Tom Grundy & Kris Cheng

Undeterred by a police ban, hundreds of thousands marched in Kowloon on Sunday in opposition to an anti-mask law imposed by the government.

Banners representing communities from Hong Kong’s 18 districts are laid out in Salisbury Garden in anticipation of a mass march on October 20. Photo: May James/HKFP.

But familiar scenes of unrest broke out within hours as water cannon, projectiles and tear gas were deployed by riot police.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Protesters threw Molotov cocktails, set fires, vandalised stores, MTR exits and Chinese banks, as they blocked roads and built makeshift barricades.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

The anti-mask law was implemented two weeks ago using the 1922 Emergency Regulations Ordinance.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Offenders face up to a year in prison for wearing a facial covering at an authorised or unauthorised protest.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

However, few protesters ditched their masks at Sunday’s march, which did not receive police approval.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

The protest was originally set to end at the West Kowloon terminus of the Express Rail Link.

‘Photo: May James/HKFP.

Organisers, the Civil Human Rights Front, officially abandoned their protest plans after an appeal to overturn the police ban failed, but demonstrators marched nonetheless.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Figo Chan, vice-convener of the pro-democracy coalition, as well as several former pro-democracy lawmakers, led the march. Protesters marched anyway to the terminus.

Chan estimated that around 350,000 had attended the march.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Several MTR stations in Kowloon were closed at noon in anticipation of the march owing to “protest and police actions.”

Photo: May James/HKFP.

By mid-afternoon, Tsuen Wan Line stations between Tsim Sha Tsui and Prince Edward were closed, along with Kwun Tong Line stations between Yau Ma Tei and Prince Edward stations and West Rail Line stations between East Tsim Sha Tsui and Austin station.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Meanwhile, West Kowloon Station – the proposed end-point of the march – remained closed for members of the public without tickets, with all stations set to close at 10pm. The MTR Corporation has been under fire after the largely government-owned transit firm declared it would close stations in the area of protests.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

A 55-year-old retiree, who gave his name as Mr Lee, told HKFP that despite the police ban on the original march he decided to attend Sunday’s gathering to exercise his freedom of expression: “[The police] don’t have the power to limit my breathing, my right to walk on the street. This is my freedom,” he said. “I am just one person. It is my responsibility to be here.”

Although some protesters marched to West Kowloon station, many continued to proceed northwards on Nathan Road, blocking traffic and chanting “Hongkongers resist.”

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Some carried giant black banners representing different districts across the city.

Banners representing communities from Hong Kong’s 18 districts are laid out in Salisbury Garden in anticipation of a mass march on October 20. Photo: May James/HKFP.

“Five demands not one less,” read one. “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” read another one, reflecting popular protest slogans.

Banners representing communities from Hong Kong’s 18 districts are laid out in Salisbury Garden in anticipation of a mass march on October 20. Photo: May James/HKFP.

A 21-year-old university student, who gave her name as May, told HKFP that police Letter of Objections had little meaning anymore since officers have used tear gas and other crowd control measures against protesters regardless of whether the gathering was authorised. “It’s very unpredictable,” she said. “[The police] have prepared the water cannon at the West Kowloon railway station and just now they’ve raised the blue flag so maybe today will be more aggressive.”

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Some demonstrators surrounded Tsim Sha Tsui police station and hurled Molotov cocktails into the police grounds.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

At around 3:15pm, tear gas canisters were fired from within the grounds.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

A water cannon truck was deployed at around 4pm, firing blue liquid infused with tear spray.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Protesters fled north as the truck sped southwards and fired water on the steps of Tsim Sha Tsui’s Kowloon mosque.

Kowloon Mosque. Photo: Telegram.

Several journalists, bystanders and a lawmaker were hit.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Some frontline protesters vandalised and broke into China-linked stores, a book shop and banks along the route.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Some MTR exits were barricaded, graffitied and firebombed.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

A Bestmart 360 was trashed, with graffiti on its shutters reading “no looting.”

Best Mart 360. Photo: May James/HKFP.

The snack and food chain’s chairman Lin Tsz-fung stands accused of having ties with the “Fujian gang” who have physically attacked protesters during the summer’s protests.

Best Mart 360. Photo: May James/HKFP.

Protesters also targeted Chinese state-owned corporations, such as the Bank of China.

Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Glass at a branch of Hong Kong’s Bank of East Asia was also smashed, though graffiti scrawled on the outside claimed: “sorry, wrong bank.”

Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

In a press release just before 4pm, police urged protesters to leave Yau Tsim Mong: “Rioters spray-painted, vandalised and hurled petrol bombs into Mong Kok, Yau Ma Tei and Austin MTR Stations… Police warn everyone at scene to stop their illegal acts immediately.”

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Explainer: ‘Renovation’, ‘decoration’ and ‘fire magic’ – the businesses targeted by Hong Kong’s hit-and-run protesters

Photo: May James/HKFP.

A group of people from the ethnic minority community handed out water and other items to protesters outside the Chungking Mansions, where many ethnic minorities do business and live.

Chungking Mansions on October 20. Photo: May James/HKFP.

Outside the building, lawmaker Claudia Mo also held a placard that read: “Solidarity with ethnic minorities.”

Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo holds up a sign reading ‘Solidarity with ethnic minorities’ outside Chungking Mansions on October 20. Photo: May James/HKFP.

Jimmy Sham, convener of the Front, was attacked by men in Tai Kok Tsui earlier this week – some reports claimed that the assailants were of South Asian descent.

‘Hongkongers, resist.’ Photo: May James/HKFP.

On Sunday, Sham released a statement calling for unity and solidarity, and asking the public to refrain from targeting minorities: “Do not label anyone by ethnicity in the movement. I believe that, everyone who joins this path to democracy are our brothers and sisters, regardless of nationality, language, colour and race,” he said.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Sham also blasted authorities for prohibiting the Front’s initial plan to march on Sunday, saying: “The government doesn’t tolerate dissenting opinion, and isn’t capable to solve the social problems. Rather, it only attempts to silence people who address the problem. It only shows that the government is deceiving itself.”

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Along the march, some protesters waved Catalan flags in solidarity with the region’s protests after independence movement leaders were jailed between 9 and 13 years.

Protesters marching in Tsim Sha Tsui hold up Catalan flags in a show of solidarity with the region’s struggle for independence from Spain. Photo: May James/HKFP.

As Hong Kong nears its 20th week of unrest, large-scale peaceful protests against a bill that would have enabled extraditions to China have evolved into sometimes violent displays of dissent over Beijing’s encroachment, democracy and alleged police violence.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Though the bill is to be axed, demonstrators are demanding an independent probe into police behaviour, amnesty for those arrested, universal suffrage and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.”

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam has agreed to withdraw the proposed extradition agreement with China which triggered the crisis but has not conceded to any of the other demands put forward by protesters. These demands include accountability for the police’s handling of the protests and amnesty for those arrested since the start of the movement in June.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Earlier on Sunday, Lam hinted in a TVB interview that the government may be considering ways to respond to demands for a fully independent probe into alleged police misconduct. But she refused to say whether a commission of inquiry was an option, according to RTHK.


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Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.