Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters took to the streets Friday wearing masks of President Xi Jinping, LeBron James and various cartoon characters in a show of defiance against a government ban on face coverings.
The demonstrations come ahead of a mass rally scheduled for Sunday, where opposition leaders are expected to press their demands. Police have refused to authorize that march, citing risks to public safety and order, but protesters have previously ignored such rejections.
Gathering along the city’s subway lines, many demonstrators Friday masqueraded as Winnie the Pooh or Guy Fawkes while holding up their phone lights and chanting slogans calling for a “revolution of our times.”
Chinese internet users have long joked that Chinese President Xi Jinping resembles the talking bear, leading the country’s censors to scrub online references to the character. Fawkes masks have come to represent anti-government protests around the world.
Some protesters out Friday assumed the identity of Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, while at least one demonstrator parodied NBA basketball star LeBron James, the Associated Press reported.
James has been criticized for 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.
Hong Kong’s leader has said the ban on masks, which have become a hallmark of the protests, is aimed at deterring radical behavior. 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.
The protesters’ aim was to form human chains extending 25 miles across Hong Kong throughout the city’s subway system, mimicking a similar event in August. It’s unclear if they achieved that as there were gaps in one downtown location.
Fox News’ Thairy Lantigua and the Associated Press contributed to this report