Hong Kong's entire MTR network shut down as violent protests break out after face mask ban

A protester throws a petrol bomb to light up a makeshift blockade in Hong Kong's Wan Chai district on Oct 4, 2019.
A protester throws a petrol bomb to light up a makeshift blockade in Hong Kong's Wan Chai district on Oct 4, 2019.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Protesters set fire to a China Construction Bank branch in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong on Oct 4, 2019.
Protesters set fire to a China Construction Bank branch in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong on Oct 4, 2019.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
A protester walks off after trashing the exit of Causeway Bay MTR station on Oct 4, 2019.
A protester walks off after trashing the exit of Causeway Bay MTR station on Oct 4, 2019.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Protesters with the Statue of Liberty to Causeway Bay in Hong Kong on Oct 4, 2019.
Protesters with the Statue of Liberty to Causeway Bay in Hong Kong on Oct 4, 2019.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Police chasing protesters in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay on Oct 4, 2019.
Police chasing protesters in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay on Oct 4, 2019.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
A taxi driver clears a makeshift blockade in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong on Oct 4, 2019.
A taxi driver clears a makeshift blockade in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong on Oct 4, 2019.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Protesters blocked Gloucester Road in Hong Kong's Wan Chai district on Oct 4, 2019.
Protesters blocked Gloucester Road in Hong Kong's Wan Chai district on Oct 4, 2019.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Protesters marching in Hong Kong's Central district on Oct 4, 2019.
Protesters marching in Hong Kong's Central district on Oct 4, 2019.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Protesters march against a ban on face masks in Hong Kong's Central district on Oct 4, 2019.
Protesters march against a ban on face masks in Hong Kong's Central district on Oct 4, 2019.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

HONG KONG - Hong Kong authorities on Friday night (Oct 5) suspended city-wide train services and a 14-year-old was shot in the thigh as thousands of protesters took to the streets, signalling defiance of the government's use of emergency powers to forbid face masks in an attempt to quell the rising unrest.

Local news website RTHK reported that the 14-year-old, who was not identified, was shot at in Yuen Long. He was hospitalised and reported to be conscious.

The city's railway operator announced the suspension of all rail, light rail and feeder bus service at around 10.30pm, saying it took the action out of safety concerns. Arson attacks were reported at a number of stations, train was reportedly damaged and some station staff were injured in attacks.

Protesters began gathering in many areas across the city and authorities closed down a number of train stations as a precautionary measure several hours after Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Friday afternoon announced her decision to use emergency power to ban people from wearing masks at protests. She told a news briefing that the regulation, targeting masked violent protesters and rioters, would take effect from Saturday (Oct 5). 

Police fired several rounds of tear gas as protesters amassed in Causeway  Bay at 10pm, the South China Morning Post reported. Several rounds of tear gas were also fired outside Tuen Mun MTR station and on Lung Cheung Road in Wong Tai Sin.  

Numerous acts on vandalism were reported across the city. Protesters smashed the glass door of a China Construction Bank branch in Causeway Bay setting off alarms.

In Mong Kok, protesters gathered along Nathan Road and damaged the ATM machine of Bank of China. In Sha Tin, the glass front of a government building was shattered. 

In Yuen Long, a man believed to be an off-duty police officer, was seen with his head covered in blood, waving a handgun as he warned protesters to stay away.

MAKESHIFT BLOCKADES

Plastic barriers, wooden pallets and traffic cones were used to set up makeshift blockades in Central district by dozens of protesters, while thousands more masked protesters remained in the roads behind the main barricade. 

Blockades were also formed in the district of Kowloon Tong, while hundreds of masked protesters held a sit-in at a mall in Sha Tin.

At around 8.15pm, an orange flag was raised by riot police at Long Cheung Road in Wong Tai Sin, warning people to disperse or be fired upon.

Protesters were also building barricades in Causeway Bay near the entrance to the Cross-Harbour Tunnel connecting Hong Kong Island with Kowloon by road. 

On Connaught Road, a major thoroughfare on the island, protesters started a fire by burning barricades. Dozens of people dismantled railings on the pavement, near Chater House.

Hundreds of protesters also gathered at Admiralty, and were occupying the Harcourt Road flyover, which is a regular flashpoint in violent clashes. They were observed by two dozen riot police a few hundred metres away guarding the government headquarters on Tim Wa Avenue.

Hundreds also gathered at Whampoa Garden in Hung Hom, shouting, "Stay with Hong Kong, fight for freedom.” 

Another roadblock was built in Hong Kong Island's Aberdeen area, a rare location for protests. Protesters in the area damaged businesses linked to China. 

A call had gone out for demonstrations in 18 Hong Kong districts on Friday evening. 

A red alert was issued by the Legislative Council Secretariat, requiring all persons to immediately evacuate the complex which is next to the government headquarters in Admiralty.

China's liaison office in Hong Kong issued a warning that the central government will not tolerate any actions that challenge China's national sovereignty and security. It also said the "masked rioters" must be punished in accordance with the law.

The office also called on the public to firmly support the Hong Kong government and police in restoring stability.

Mr Yang Guang, the spokesman for China’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, said the chaotic situation cannot continue indefinitely, and that Hong Kong has reached a critical moment.


Protesters attempting to break into the Central Government Complex in Hong Kong on Oct 4, 2019. They stopped after a while. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

HUGE QUEUES AT TRAIN STATIONS

Huge queues formed at MTR stations as people rushed to get home ahead of the planned protests. At the Causeway Bay metro station, the queue at exit A reached all the way to the Times Square shopping centre. 

The Kwun Tong MTR was closed after of “an escalation of the situation”, according to the MTR Corporation after facilities at the stop on the Kwun Tong line were damaged.

Facilities at the Sha Tin MTR station were also vandalised, with fire sprinklers at the station concourse triggered. The station was closed as protesters outside built barricades on nearby roads. 

Protesters sprayed a water hose into Tai Koo MTR station, triggering its closure. Two other MTR stations were also closed - Tseung Kwan O and Ngau Tau Kok.

Groups of protesters were also wandering around New Town Plaza looking for businesses to target. ATMs at a Bank of China outlet were damaged.

Bus services were also affected in the Central district due to the situation on the streets. 

CARRIE LAM UNDER PRESSURE

Mrs Lam said her decision to invoke the emergency power to ban people from wearing masks at protests was taken after a special meeting on Friday morning of the government to discuss the move. She said she did not seek approval from Beijing to implement the law during her recent trip for China's National Day celebrations.

Violators of the ban, which would include exemptions, face a jail term of up to one year or a fine of HK$25,000 (S$4,400), according to a copy of the document handed to reporters.

Mrs Lam said people would have a reasonable excuse to use facial coverings if they required them for physical safety at work, for religious purposes, or for a pre-existing medical or health reason.

 
 
 
 

Similar anti-mask regulations are in force in other countries such as Australia, Canada, France and Germany.

Mrs Lam has resorted to the Emergency Regulations Ordinance - last used during the 1967 riots - to implement the latest measure which will be subject to vetting by the Legislative Council.

This means the new regulation will be tabled for members’ discussion when their meetings resume on Oct 16.

That said, Mrs Lam stressed that the move did not mean that Hong Kong was in or entering a state of emergency.

“But we are indeed in an occasion of serious danger, which is a state of condition in emergency regulations ordinance for the Chief Executive in Council to exercise certain powers and I will say that we are now in a rather extensive and serious public danger,” she said.

The aim of this regulation was to end violence and restore order, something Mrs Lam said was now the broad consensus of Hong Kong people. 

“Protests arising from the fugitive offenders Bill have continued for nearly four months now. Over this period, protesters’ violence has been escalating and has reached a very alarming level in the past few days, causing numerous injuries and leading Hong Kong to a chaotic and panic situation," she said.

“We are particularly concerned that many students are participating in these violent protests, or even riots jeopardising their safety and even their future. As a responsible government, we have the duty to use all available means in order to stop the escalating violence and restore calmness in society,” she added, though she acknowledged that she was not sure that this new move alone could ease the political crisis.

Critics were quick to reject the use of emergency laws. And in an acknowledgment that their move would not stop unrest, some government workers were dismissed early on Friday, while schools were told to cancel extracurricular activities in anticipation of protests.

Hong Kong has been gripped by unrest since June when protests escalated over the highly divisive extradition Bill. Many of the protests descended into violence and chaos as some hardcore protesters fought riot police with petrol bombs, corrosive liquid or pelt bricks, triggering officers’ use of tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray.

So far, some 1,800 have been arrested and scores injured, with a journalist losing an eye and an 18-year-old protester shot in the chest. The youth is now in a stable condition

Calls are circulating online to defy the mask ban, including by wearing Halloween masks for a march. 

The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), organiser of some of the biggest protests, has condemned the anti-mask move, saying the government has intensified its efforts to suppress the people.

Mr Eric Lai, vice-convenor of the CHRF, said: “Carrie Lam and her government have not deeply reflected upon the things that led to the events happening today, and they have also not been changing their course of action to help recover the public’s faith and confidence in the government.”

“Every Hong Kong citizen understands the use of the anti-mask law does not respond to the mainstream demands of Hong Kong society."

Hong Kong University legal scholar Eric Cheung told The Straits Times that he was concerned with the government resorting to  emergency powers to enact the anti-mask law.

 
 
 
 

He said: “It sets a very, very dangerous precedence by passing all the normal legislative process without any consultation, no debate, no voting in the council. 

“This will create a very, very unstable legal environment for Hong Kong.”

The assistant professor added that “bankers and businessmen are very worried about this move” as it means the law can be changed overnight, without prior discussion and consultation.

“In particular, under this emergency law, it is basically a very wide-ranging power given to the Chief Executive in Council that would include forfeiting one’s property, imposing immigration control, imposing foreign exchange control and so on,” he said.

The Singapore Consulate-General in Hong Kong on Friday put out a travel advisory on Facebook over the protests.

"Large-scale protests have been taking place across Hong Kong since June 2019 which have become increasingly unpredictable. These protests can take place with little or no notice and could turn violent," the Consulate-General wrote.

"Singaporeans are advised to defer non-essential travel to Hong Kong, given current developments. If you are already in Hong Kong, you should take all necessary precautions to ensure your personal safety," it wrote. 

The Consulate-General advised Singaporeans to follow the Hong Kong Police Force on their social media accounts for the latest updates.

It also said the latest information on special traffic arrangements is available online.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Friday that political dialogue was the only way to resolve the situation in Hong Kong. 

“While governments need to ensure the security and safety of their people, they must avoid aggravating and instead reduce tensions,” Mr Raab said in a statement.