Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong have donned cartoon character masks as they formed human chains across the semi-autonomous Chinese city in defiance of a government ban on face coverings at public assemblies.
Gathering along the city’s subway lines, many demonstrators masqueraded as Winnie the Pooh or Guy Fawkes while holding up phone lights and chanting slogans calling for a “revolution of our times”.
Chinese internet users have joked that Chinese President Xi Jinping resembles Winnie the Pooh, leading the country’s censors to remove online references to the character.
Fawkes masks have come to represent anti-government protests around the world.
The protesters were taking a light-hearted approach to oppose the government’s decision this month to invoke colonial-era emergency regulations banning face masks at rallies as it struggles to contain the chaotic protest movement.
The peaceful event comes ahead of a mass rally organisers are planning for Sunday to press their demands. Police refused to authorise the march, citing risks to public safety and order, but protesters have previously ignored such rejections.
Hong Kong’s leader has said the ban on masks, which have become a hallmark of the protests, is aimed at deterring radical behaviour. Offenders can be punished by up to a year in prison.
But the protesters say they wear them out of fear of retribution and concern that their identities will be shared with China’s massive state security apparatus.
Some protesters on Friday assumed the identity of Mr Xi or Hong Kong’s deeply unpopular Beijing-backed leader, chief executive Carrie Lam.
Others wore masks depicting Pepe the Frog, a character that has become a symbol for the Hong Kong protesters, unaware of its association with far-right extremists in the US.
At least one protester parodied NBA basketball star LeBron James. James has been accused of caving to China’s communist leaders after he suggested free speech can have consequences, following a now-deleted tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey in support of the protests that angered Beijing.
The protesters’ aim was to form human chains extending 25 miles across Hong Kong by tracing the city’s subway system, mimicking a similar event in August.
Also on Friday, Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific said passenger traffic to mainland China last month plummeted 23.2% from a year ago, in the latest sign of the protests’ impact on the city’s tourism industry. The decline contributed to a 7.1% drop in overall passenger numbers.