Hong Kong leader calls on public to condemn violence after ‘very dark night’
In five-minute video released on Saturday afternoon, Lam defends decision to invoke colonial-era law for first time in more than half a century. Hong Kong remains in lockdown with MTR network still at standstill and shopping centres and banks all closed
Hong Kong’s embattled leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, appealed on Saturday to the public to condemn protest violence and disassociate themselves from rioters, saying the chaos they unleashed across the city the previous night after the announcement of a ban on the wearing of face masks at public assemblies was the reason such a controversial restriction had to be imposed in the first place.
In a five-minute taped video released on Saturday afternoon, a grim-faced Lam, flanked by 14 of her top officials, slammed those who were responsible for the “outrageous” rampage.
After rioting mobs trashed MTR stations, set a train on fire and assaulted railway staff on Friday night, the entire network remained closed on Saturday, depriving citizens of their primary mode of public transport. It remained uncertain whether it would open on Sunday.
Dozens of shopping centres, retail outlets, grocery stores and banks did not open for business for fear of more protest violence and vandalism.
“Horribly violent incidents took place in various districts in Hong Kong last night. The extreme acts of the masked rioters were shocking and the level of vandalism was unprecedented,” Lam said.
“The extreme acts of the rioters brought dark hours to Hong Kong last night and half-paralysed society today. Everyone is worried, anxious and even in fear.”
She mentioned the case of a plain-clothes officer who was beaten and burned with petrol bombs by a mob in Yuen Long, saying he “had no choice but to shoot in self-defence”, wounding a teenager who was later arrested on charges of taking part in a riot and assaulting police.
The violence provided solid grounds for imposing the anti-mask law, she said, defending the government’s decision to introduce it by invoking the tough colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance for the first time in more than half a century.
“The government will curb violence with utmost determination,” she said. “Let’s condemn violence together and resolutely disassociate with rioters.”
Even as Lam’s video message was being broadcast on television and shared on the internet, hundreds of Hongkongers, many of them masked, started to march from Causeway Bay to Central to protest against the ban.
One of the marchers, a 22-year-old named Louie, said it was unfair of Lam to ask the public to shun masked rioters.
“She is making us a target even though we are the ones fighting for our freedom as Hongkongers,” she said. “Masks hold an important symbol in Hong Kong. We used masks during the Sars [severe acute respiratory syndrome] outbreak of 2003 and to protect ourselves against tear gas. It’s a symbol of resistance and you cannot take that away from us.”
Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu earlier made a similar appeal for the public to stop supporting the rioters, while dismissing accusations that the government had added fuel to the fire with the mask ban.
“The introduction of the anti-mask regulation is to make sure that those who commit crimes and commit violence will have to face justice, so that they cannot hide behind their masks to escape their responsibilities,” Lee said.
“What is adding oil to violence is people’s support for these acts or people’s acquiescence in finding reasons for this violence to continue. So what is important is that everybody comes out to say, ‘No, society will not accept violence.’”
Lee noted that no one had been arrested yet under the new law that came into effect on Saturday.
Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah said the government would not rule out tougher measures using emergency powers if the protests continued to spiral out of control. These could include extending detention hours for those arrested and directly funding police without prior scrutiny by the legislature.
Cheng rejected suggestions the government had bypassed the Legislative Council with its introduction of the anti-mask law.
She said the law would be tabled in Legco when meetings resumed later in October.
But 24 opposition lawmakers filed court applications for a temporary suspension of the mask ban and a judicial review to revoke it.
Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok, who represents the legal sector, said it was unconstitutional for Lam to bypass Legco.
The Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data issued a statement saying the ban on face masks, without the video recording of facial information, did not constitute collection of “personal data” under the relevant ordinance.
Rumours spreading online about the possibility of the government using emergency powers to impose foreign-exchange controls prompted the Hong Kong Monetary Authority to issue a statement warning against a “malicious attempt to cause panic among the public”.
The city’s de facto central bank stressed that the banking system remained robust and well positioned to withstand any market volatility.
The authority also said more than 10 per cent of 3,300 ATMs were damaged and could not function. Banks were negotiating with logistics firms to refill cash machines as 5 per cent of them had run out of money. Banknote delivery was affected by the closure of shopping malls and MTR stations.