Thousands of Hongkongers took to the streets in the afternoon on Oct. 20, despite a police ban, just days after a prominent activist was brutally attacked by thugs who are still at large.
The march’s participants, many of them dressed in black and some holding an umbrella, set off from Salisbury Garden in Tsim Sha Tsui at about 1:30 p.m. local time. One hour later, the first section of the march arrived at it’s destination, West Kowloon Station, which is about 1.5 miles away.
Protesters could be heard shouting slogans such as “five demands, not one less” and “Hongkongers Resist.”
The march was originally planned by the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), the organizer behind some of the city’s biggest protests to date. But the group lost an appeal against a police ban on Oct. 19. According to Hong Kong media, police prohibited the march, citing fears of violence.
The organization estimated that 350,000 took part in Sunday’s march.
CHRF planned the march to call for the abolition of the anti-mask law Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam put in place on Oct. 4 after she invoked a colonial-era emergency law. The law bans people from wearing facial masks during large public gatherings, in an effort to quell the ongoing unrest.
Four activists decided to lead the march, facing the possibility of being arrested. The four were Figo Chan, 22, deputy convener at CHRF; Leung Kwok-hung, 63, of the League of Social Democrats; Albert Ho, 68, former chairman of the Democratic Party and current chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China; and Cyd Ho, 65, vice chairman of the Labour Party.
Prior to the march, organizers had been unsure about how many people would join, given that CHRF’s convener Jimmy Sham, 32, was brutally attacked by thugs wielding arms on Oct. 16, leaving him in a pool of blood on the sidewalk. According to CHRF, the attackers targeted Sham’s head, knees, and elbows during the assault.
It was the second time Sham has been attacked. Both happened just before CHRF led a major march. The last attack took place on Aug. 29, when Sham was assaulted at a restaurant in Kowloon by two masked men wielding a long knife and a baseball bat.
CHRF had originally planned to hold a march on Aug. 31, but it canceled after failing to secure police approval. Despite the cancelation, thousands went ahead to march the streets in both Wan Chai and Causeway Bay.
On Oct. 19, Sham released a “family letter” to Hongkongers on Twitter in which he slammed the pro-Beijing Lam government for failing to approve the march.
“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,” Sham stated.
He urged caution for those who planned to participate in the march on Oct. 20, saying, “Please take care of yourselves. Go home safely. I send my wish to everyone who take risk and gives themselves for Hong Kong.”
At around 4 p.m. local time, CHRF announced that Sham had been released from Kwong Wah Hospital.
Violence and Targeted Vandalism
The peaceful march soon turned into more clashes between police and protesters.
At around 3:15 p.m. local time, police officers at Tsim Sha Tsui Police station fired a round of tear gas at protesters who had surrounded the station. Prior to the attempt by the police to clear the crowds, some protesters had sprayed black paint at the police emblem on the station’s outer wall, while some had thrown petrol bombs at the station.
Police then deployed a water-cannon vehicle to clear protesters along Nathan Road, which links Tsim Sha Tsui and Sham Shui Po.
At around 15:30 local time, Hong Kong metro authorities shut down multiple stations, according to local broadcaster RTHK, after some protesters either vandalized or set fire to them. Austin, Mong Kok, East Tsim Sha Tsui, and Yau Ma Tei were among those affected.
At around 16:30 local time, police officers from Mong Kok Police station fired tear gas at protesters who had set up roadblocks at Nathan Road.
Protesters also targeted shops they consider pro-Beijing. As of 5 p.m. local time, a Bank of China branch on Nathan Road was set on fire, and a store belonging to the Chinese cellphone brand Xiaomi in Mong Kok was vandalized.
Just a day earlier, several hundred people, some waving U.S. flags, rallied peacefully at Edinburgh Place in Central, calling on the international community for help in what they described as a humanitarian crisis engulfing the city, reported RTHK.