Q: How often do you join the protests?
A: As a working professional, I try to go on weekends when I have time. At most legal protests, I try not to wear masks. It’s about exercising our legal right of assembly and showing our support for this movement. Why should we hide our faces?
You don’t really know if a demonstration will ultimately be legal or illegal. It might start out as a legal assembly in a designated area, but then it spills onto the street because so many people are joining. If that crowd walks down the street and deviates in any way from the original route, it can technically be interpreted as an “unlawful assembly.”
The police are supposed to inform protesters when an assembly has been declared “unlawful.” However, protesters may hardly be aware when this happens—officers may put up a sign, in a place not within our eyesight.
If the police start shooting tear gas, you will know the demonstration is now considered illegal. This is when I put on a mask. The surgical mask I carry is not a chemical mask, so it’s not effective protection against the tear gas; but when police deem things an “unlawful assembly” and charge in, it’s better not to have your photo taken.
Many protesters are concerned about photos being taken, no matter if the assembly is legal or not, since China is renowned for using face recognition technology to monitor its people. A sense of “White Terror” is increasingly felt in Hong Kong, and we are quite worried that such images could be used against you later. Look at what is happening at Cathay Pacific and TVB—staff were laid off because they posted pro-protest messages on Facebook.