HONG KONG—When reports of a possible law banning face masks at protests first surfaced this month, chat groups and online messaging boards popular with demonstrators lit up in fury over what seemed to be yet another (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to quell unrest here.
Attention quickly turned to a snippet of a by-election debate from 2016, specifically to the words of a young man standing with other hopefuls on a U-shaped stage, his bright-blue hoodie and khakis a marked sartorial departure from the formal attire of his older rivals. In the debate, Edward Leung, his right hand gripping a microphone and his left jabbing the air with an outstretched index finger, unleashed a tirade that three years later looks uncannily prescient.
“Ukraine passed the anti-mask law a few years ago. Do you know what happened to Ukraine after that?” Leung asked. “It resulted in a revolution. If you want to play this game, by all means, do it. I am all for that.” The two candidates receiving the brunt of Leung’s verbal lashing looked bowled over. “If you want to restrict our freedom of assembly, go do it. Let’s see what Hong Kongers, what all of us, will do to you.”
When Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, confirmed the rumors of the mask ban, days of spontaneous peaceful rallies, as well as some violent demonstrations, ensued across the city. Dozens were left injured after clashes between protesters and police, including a 14-year-old boy shot by an undercover officer, who was as a result left bloodied by demonstrators and attacked with petrol bombs.