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Fresh protests continued in Hong Kong on Saturday, a day after the city’s leader Carrie Lam invoked emergency measures, which involved the banning of mask wearing in public places. Protesters in Hong Kong have often worn face masks to avoid the effects of tear gas, as well as to remain anonymous to authorities. The aim of the measures, which should be seen as a significant statement of intent by the Hong Kong government, were to restore order to the city, which was in “an occasion of serious danger”, according to Lam.
Meanwhile the response to the measures, appeared, at least in the short term, to be counterproductive to the government’s aim. Riots broke out around the city on Friday night, and more demonstrations are planned over the coming days. On Friday, protesters attacked multiple metro stations, the effect of which led to the closure of the network on Saturday. As of Sunday, it had only been partially reopened. CNN also reported that a number of Chinese owned businesses were also targeted, and a Chinese national flag was burnt, according to Reuters. Speaking in a pre-recorded message on Saturday, Lam said that the “radical behaviour of rioters” had shown why the implementation of the measures had been so crucial. Flanked by her cabinet, she said that Hong Kong had been through “a very dark night” and hinted that tougher measures could be taken if needed.
Reaction to the announcement from pro-democracy demonstrators was largely condemnatory. As reported by the Guardian, Joseph Cheng, the Secretary General of the pro-democracy Civic Party, said that “Pandora’s box had been opened”, and that no “checks and balances” remained as a result of the announcement. Ho fun-Hung, a university professor in the U.S., also warned that the decision constituted a “slippery slope” for Hong Kong, which could end up damaging its financial hub.
Meanwhile, in a separate development, the UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet called for an independent probe looking at Hong Kong violence, saying that the organisation had been “troubled by the high levels of violence associated with some demonstrations.” She went on to say that she wanted “those engaged in protests to do so in a peaceful and non-violent way.” The announcement came after it emerged that an eighteen-year-old man and fourteen-year-old boy had been shot by police, in separate incidents over the space of three days. A spokesman for the Hong Kong police force, said that the officers had only fired because of a great threat to their lives.
These events over the past couple of days have intensified fears that Hong Kong is moving ever further away from a peaceful solution to the crisis, Although protests have carried on for four months so far, with little sign of an end to the affair, it would be misleading to characterise Hong Kong as being in a state of limbo. The decision by Lam to call upon the emergency measures, which have not been used in over fifty years, signals that the government in Hong Kong is willing to use all necessary powers to try and stop the demonstrations, and to impose authoritarian measures if necessary. Perhaps more pertinently, it all but ends the hope that protesters had, that the government may be willing to accommodate protester’s demands. It is therefore hard to see how the demonstrations can be stopped without any form of tough action by the government, especially considering the growing perspective by demonstrators that they have nothing to lose. Hence, if any improvements are to be seen in the coming weeks, they are likely to be at the expense of Hong Kong’s freedom of speech and right to protest, an unfortunate irony.