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Situation Update - Hong Kong Protests

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HONG KONG PROTESTS

  • On 4 October, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam used colonial-era emergency powers to impose an anti-mask law

  • As of 00:00 on 5 October, the wearing of face masks in public gatherings will be forbidden, in an effort to curb ongoing anti-government protests

  • The decision to ban face masks has itself prompted disruptive and violent protests across the Special Administrative Region

  • The move comes two days after a protester was shot with a live round at close range by Hong Kong police

  • Further violent clashes have taken place between police and protesters following the shooting of the protester, which occurred on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China

Hong Kong Protests
Situation

On Friday 4 October, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, convened a special meeting of the Executive Council of Hong Kong, in Admiralty. Following the meeting, Lam announced that the Special Administrative Region’s government planned to invoke the Emergency Regulations Ordinance (ERO), a colonial-era law, last used in 1967 to bring an end to months of violent protests. The ERO allows the Chief Executive to make “any regulations whatsoever which he may consider desirable in the public interest”. As such, whilst maintaining that Hong Kong was not in a State of Emergency, Lam stated that an anti-mask law would be implemented at midnight on 5 October. The ban is an attempt to curb the anti-government protests that have been ongoing for 17 consecutive weeks. Those found wearing face masks, including face paint, when the law comes into effect could be sentenced to up to one year in prison, or face a fine of up to HK$25,000 (USD3188). A timeframe for the length of the ban has not been specified.

Following the announcement of the ban, protests have been staged across Hong Kong on 4 October, causing extensive disruption. Thousands of protesters were noted gathering in Central, whilst blocking major roads and intersections, including Queen’s Road, Pedder Street and Des Voeux Road. In Causeway Bay, which has also seen frequent protest action, a march occurred along Hennessy Road and Percival Street. In addition, a sit-in has been staged by school students outside the Yoho Mall in Yuen Long. Several malls and businesses, including IFC mall, Hysan Place, the World Trade Centre and Pacific Place, have reported closing early on 4 October, particularly in Central and Admiralty, where staff have also been advised to leave work early in light of safety concerns.

Notably, the decision to invoke the ERO comes after an escalation in violence witnessed on 1 October, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Anti-government, pro-democracy protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong, resulting in clashes with police, who used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters, in addition to six live bullets - of which one hit an 18-year-old protester. The victim, identified as Tsang Chi-Kin, was shot by a police officer at close range in Tsuen Wan, which is located in the western New Territories. He is said to be in a stable condition and has subsequently been charged with two counts of assaulting a police officer and rioting. In total, 269 individuals were detained for their role in the protests on Tuesday, with more than 100 injuries recorded. In light of the shooting, and subsequent related protests, one major financial organisation in the city announced it had closed the main gates to its headquarters in Central, as a precaution due to protests and violent clashes taking place in the near vicinity.

On 2 October, thousands joined region-wide demonstrations in support of Tsang, notably in Central and the location of the shooting, Tsuen Wan; however, these again escalated to violent confrontations. In Central, a rally was held in Chater Garden, resulting in significant traffic disruptions and road closures. Notably, protesters threw petrol bombs at the New Territories South Regional Police Headquarters, in Tsuen Wan, causing a fire. Anger has been largely directed towards the police, where there has been debate over the legality of the shooting. However, Hong Kong’s Police Chief has stated that the police officer’s decision to discharge his weapon was “lawful and reasonable”, as he feared for his, and his colleagues’, safety. Notably, the shooting came after Hong Kong police’s guide for using lethal force, including the discharge of a firearm, was relaxed on 30 September ahead of the Chinese anniversary.

Implications

It remains unclear at this time how the Hong Kong police will enforce the face mask ban that comes into effect on 5 October. When questioned, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security, John Lee, provided minimal information with regards to who would be permitted exemptions to the ban, for example those likely to be impacted by the deployment of tear gas living near to protest hotspots. There are reports that police will request a medical professional’s written notice if a mask should be worn for medical reasons, or in the special consideration for employment or religious requirements. However, this will be subject to police and a court’s discretion. 

Notably, Hong Kong’s Education Bureau has stated that apart from medical and religious exceptions, there is no need for students to wear face masks, in reference to the recent uptick in student organised actions amid the wider anti-government movement. Moreover, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions has heavily criticised the move, stating the anti-mask law will seriously obstruct workers fighting for their rights in protests. This, in turn, could become problematic for union members who choose to participate in protests, as it removes the option of anonymity. As highlighted in the case of Hong Kong airline carrier Cathay Pacific, corporate entities may exercise the right to discipline staff for participating in the protests, under so-called Beijing influence. 

While Lam states that Hong Kong is not currently in a State of Emergency, the introduction of emergency powers and increased use of force by Hong Kong police will likely be met with a strong rebuke from the anti-government, pro-democracy protesters. The ERO enables the Chief Executive to bypass normal legislative processes. The next anticipated move that could be implemented under emergency powers, as has already been requested by the Junior Police Officers' Association, would be to introduce a curfew. This would also likely be fiercely rejected by protesters and would not provide a long-term solution to the unrest. In addition, this would also likely have a significant impact on business operations in Hong Kong; however, businesses are already reporting to be impacted by the ongoing protests, including closing operations early for staff safety. 

Previously, following weeks of mass unrest, on 4 September, Lam announced that the controversial Chinese extradition bill, which sparked the ongoing protest movement, would be formally withdrawn in October when the Legislative Council reconvenes, which she hoped would see an end to the anti-government movement. On 30 September, President of the People's Republic of China, Xi Jinping, reaffirmed China’s commitment to the ‘One country, two systems’ principle, and said mainland China would continue to allow Hong Kong to handle the anti-government, pro-democracy movement itself. Yet, whilst protesters state that the formal withdrawal was one of the protest movement’s demands, the largely leaderless movement states that the protests will continue until other demands are met, specifically; to stop the prosecution of detained protesters, stop referring to the protesters as rioters, to launch an independent inquiry of police brutality and to organise a free election. However, Lam has rejected these demands. 

Police presence is expected to remain strong in Hong Kong, particularly around protest hotspots – Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, along Hennessey Road, and in the Central district. Police have been deploying water cannons, tear gas canisters and rubber bullets, and more recently live rounds, during protests, which could cause injury to those nearby, even if not participating in the protests. This was demonstrated on Sunday 29 September when an Indonesian journalist was hit in the eye with a projectile fired by police, in Wan Chai, resulting in blindness in one eye. 

Furthermore, recently, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) has been closing stations in efforts to prevent protesters reaching large demonstrations, whilst stations have also been the location of violent conflicts and criminal damage. Around 22:30 local time on 4 October, the MTR announced it had suspended all services, including of light rail and bus services, across Hong Kong, following reports of vandalism and protests taking place at stations. In addition, previous protests and demonstrations have targeted Hong Kong International Airport, causing disruption to airport operations and resulting in increased security, which travellers should allow additional time to pass through. Notably, on 4 October, Cathay Pacific announced the in-town flight check-in service at Hong Kong station, Central, for the Airport Express has been suspended and will remain closed for the remainder of Friday.

Planned Protests

The following is a list of upcoming planned protests and rallies in Hong Kong; however, it should be noted that the dates, times and locations are subject to change. In addition, many smaller protests will be staged without prior announcement, and violent and/or significant incidents, such as the shooting of a protester on 1 October, can spark spontaneous protest action with an increased risk of clashes between protesters and police. 

Saturday, 5 October: Gatherings planned to take place in shopping malls in Kowloon and the New Territories at 13:00 local time. March planned to take place at 14:00 local time from Sogo Mall, in Causeway Bay, to Charter Green, in Central, against the recently announced face mask ban. Demonstration calling for international humanitarian aid planned between 19:00 and 22:00 local time in Victoria Park. 

Sunday, 6 October: Protest organised to demand investigation into police brutality and calling for protection of press, 14:00 local time in Victoria Park. 

Monday, 7 October: Strike action planned across the Special Administrative Region. Memorial for Martyrs on Chung Yeung Festival Remembrance to take place outside Prince Edward MTR Station between 19:00 and 21:00 local time. 

Thursday, 10 October: Protests likely to coincide with National Day of the Republic of China (Double Ten Day), a national day commemorating the 1911 Wuchang Uprising that led to the founding of the Republic of China. 

Saturday, 12 October: Giant human placard formation to be staged in New Town Plaza Atrium, Sha Tin, 20:00 – 21:00 local time. 

Ongoing: Peaceful student demonstrations outside education facilities.

Advice
  • Keep abreast with local news through security alerts, media or asking your host facilitator or hotel staff.

  • Do not wear face masks, which have become synonymous with protesters, and will be banned from midnight on 5 October.

  • In general, avoid protests and demonstrations due to the likelihood of violent clashes between protesters and police.

  • Avoid wearing black and white clothing due to their association with anti-government protests and pro-Beijing supporters.

  • Keep a low profile due to the political tensions and avoid discussing the political developments, where possible, due to heightened sensitivities.

  • Be prepared for additional security checks if crossing between mainland China and Hong Kong, including scrutiny of electronic devices and social media profiles, which may increase the risk of detention.

  • In the event of civil unrest, stay indoors or in your car. Find the nearest exit points and move there in a swift and calm manner.

  • Use private, pre-arranged transportation in the event of necessary movement whilst protests are occurring as public transportation has previously been the target of violence.

  • Have all travel and professional documents with the proper stamps and signatures in the event a member of the security forces asks.