Hong Kong Law & Crime Politics & Protest

Hong Kong haunted by tear gas and pepper spray as protesters flout mask law on Halloween

By Jennifer Creery & Tom Grundy

The city’s annual Halloween celebrations were eclipsed by tear gas and pepper spray on Thursday, as police attempted to clear unauthorised protests in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.

halloween october 31

Photo: Galileo Cheng.

Many used the occasion to wear masks despite the government’s newly imposed anti-mask law.

Demonstrators donned riot police and V for Vendetta masks, as well as masks resembling Chief Executive Carrie Lam and China’s Xi Jinping.

halloween october 31

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

One reveller showed up dressed as a pro-Beijing police supporter, as another sported a tear gas cannister outfit.

halloween october 31

Photo: Galileo Cheng.

Under the Prohibition on Face Covering Regulation, offenders could be sentenced to a year in jail and a fine of HK$25,000.

The regulation, which was enacted using the colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance, allows police officers to check the identity of masked individuals and ask them to remove their masks.

halloween october 31

Photo: Galileo Cheng.

MTR storming

Thursday’s unrest also marked two months since a controversial crackdown inside Prince Edward MTR station where elite officers used pepper spray and batons against protesters inside train carriages. The police operation on August 31 saw reporters and medical volunteers ushered out of the facility, prompting unverified rumours of civilian deaths to circulate online. The embattled rail operator has faced criticism for failing to release surveillance tapes from the night in question.

Exit B of Prince Edward MTR station

Exit B of Prince Edward MTR station on October 31. Photo: Kevin Cheng/United Social Press.

Hundreds gathered to tape white flowers and commemorative items on the wall of exit B of the MTR station – next to Mong Kok police station – which has acted as a makeshift memorial to mark the incident. The facility was boarded up with protective metal sheets ahead of the gathering on Thursday.

Exit B of Prince Edward MTR station

Exit B of Prince Edward MTR station on October 31. Photo: Kevin Cheng/United Social Press.

The MTR Corporation announced that Prince Edward station would remain closed after 2pm and Central station after 9pm on Thursday, after conducting a joint risk assessment with the relevant government departments. Services on light rail, MTR buses and other lines except the Airport Express ended at 11pm. From 9pm, Airport Express ran between the airport and Kowloon stations only; trains did not stop at Hong Kong, Tsing Yi and AsiaWorld-Expo stations.

Shortly after 8pm, the Corporation announced that trains would not call at Mong Kok MTR station.

halloween october 31

Photo: Galileo Cheng.

Hong Kong has been shaken by over five months of unrest sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition bill which would have enabled fugitive transfers to mainland China. The sometimes violent displays of dissent have morphed into a wider movement calling for democratic reform, amnesty for arrested protesters, and accountability for the police handling of the crisis.

halloween october 31

Photo: Galileo Cheng.

Hunter Lai, a 32-year-old nurse who was burning joss paper – a funeral custom – at the Prince Edward MTR station exit told HKFP he wanted to pay homage to those who had “sacrificed” for the protest movement.

“We don’t know the truth about what happened here,” he said. “At least we should have the CCTV, the video from inside the station, or any [kind of] internal report.”

October 31 protest mask halloween prince edward

The intersection of Prince Edward Road West and Nathan Road, by Mong Kok police station on October 31. Photo: Jimmy Lai/United Social Press.

At around 9:10pm, officers fired multiple rounds of tear gas from Mong Kok police station along the intersection of Nathan Road and Prince Edward Road West.

A 19-year-old university student, who gave her name as Ms Lau, told HKFP that she was caught up in the skirmish outside Mong Kok police station while visiting the memorial.

Asked if she was concerned about an impending police clearance operation, she became emotional, saying: “We’re Hongkongers, we’re not afraid.”

Lan Kwai Fong

Over on Hong Kong Island, hundreds gathered for a masquerade march from Victoria Park to Lan Kwai Fong – the city’s entertainment district.

halloween october 31

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Dozens of riot police were stationed across central Hong Kong in preparation for the gathering, cordoning off key thoroughfares around the bars.

halloween october 31

Photo: Galileo Cheng.

In Causeway Bay, hundreds gathered with some blaring the popular protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong from speakers.

halloween october 31

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

An hours-long standoff took place in Central with protesters jeering and heckling officers who occasionally shone lights at protesters and ordered them to leave.

halloween october 31

Photo: Galileo Cheng.

Some Halloween revellers were caught up in the scene. District Councillor Paul Zimmerman told HKFP: “Everything is closed off, there are very few protesters – everybody’s angry with the police because we can’t get to the bars, it’s a very silly situation.”

At around 8:30pm, a civilian threw a cardboard box at a line of officers on D’Aguilar Street, prompting officers to raise a blue flag warning the crowd that they were participating in an unlawful assembly and urging them to disperse.

halloween october 31

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Shortly afterwards, police moved southwards and expanded their cordon.

halloween october 31

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

HKFP noted at least three arrests, with one woman in a witch costume detained after heckling officers on the frontline.

An officer lunched towards her whilst other officers pepper-sprayed members of the press around her.

halloween october 31

Photo: Galileo Cheng.

A driver stranded within the police operation was pulled over for honking his horn in time with a protest chant. Several people were also made to remove their masks and reveal their identity to police officers.

Tear gas was fired at the bottom of Pedder Street at 10pm, prompting protesters to flee westwards.

halloween october 31

Photo: Galileo Cheng.

Passersby and some people in restaurants were affected.

halloween october 31

Photo: Galileo Cheng.

Several police officers – who had not donned their gas masks in time – also fled southwards back towards Lan Kwai Fong.

halloween october 31

Photo: Galileo Cheng.

The government released a statement shortly before midnight condemning the unauthorised assemblies as a threat to public safety, saying: “The spokesman expresses deep regret that despite repeated clarifications by the government that there were no cases involving death in Prince Edward MTR station on August 31, some people still deliberately chose to be misled by online rumours and responded to calls for unauthorised assemblies.”

halloween october 31

Photo: Galileo Cheng.

Additionally, the statement criticised the protesters’ roadblocks as disruptive and their petrol bombs as dangerous: “These illegal acts that have disrupted social order and jeopardised people’s safety are completely unacceptable. The police will strictly enforce the law and will not condone illegal acts,” the spokesperson said.


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Hong Kong haunted by tear gas and pepper spray as protesters flout mask law on Halloween