A Chinese news tabloid, referred to by critics as a propaganda outlet for the Chinese government, published an opinion in favor of a ban on wearing masks at protests, as the nearly 15-week long pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong continue.
Global Times, ran a Thursday column by Zhi Zhenfeng, a “research fellow” for the outlet, in which he compared the protests to the U.S. Occupy Wall Street movement and called the protestors “evil” and “cowards.” At one point in the column, Zhenfeng compared the demonstrators to Islamic State terrorists, known as ISIS.
Global Times is published alongside People’s Daily, which is itself owned by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.
“In movies, masked people cloaked in black are almost always bandits who kill and plunder. Such image is also typical of a member of the Islamic State,” Zhi wrote. “However, in the riots that started after the anti-extradition bill protests morphed into a so-called ‘pro-democracy movement’ during the last three months, the belligerent protesters acted violently under the garb of masks and black clothes.”
Zhi goes on to compare the proposal to ban masks to other countries’ current and past legislation, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Pointing to the Waltham Black Act in 1723 in the United Kingdom, which was repealed in 1823, Bill C-309 in Canada and the 15 US states that have banned masks at protests and rallies, Zhi insists that the proposal would not infringe on Hong Kongers’ right to assemble.
“Hongkongers have freedom of assembly and demonstration according to the Bask Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR). People’s participating in assemblies and protests is permitted, as long as in a peaceful way and in line with ‘one country, two systems’ principle,” Zhi added. “The masked ones tend to be unconfident or even harbor sinister designs. Masks have become their shields from the truth.”
The pro-democracy demonstration began in June as a protest by the people of Hong Kong against a proposed extradition bill that would the Chinese government to extradite individuals charged with crimes in Hong Kong to mainland China for prosecution.
Throughout the ongoing protests, the Chinese government has made several attempts to control the media narrative and public opinion about the nature of the protesters.
In one attempt, a Chinese government official sent more than 30 letters to media outlets urged media outlets around the world urging them to correct what they consider to be biased reporting about Hong Kong.
Included in the letter was a “41-page dossier of news clippings” showing alleged bias toward the Hong Kong conflict and urged news media outlets to help “protesters ignorant of the truth to get back to the right path.”
Further, a Chinese Communist Party-sponsored rap group released a song to rally public support in opposition to protesters. The lyrics included language threatening to wipe out the protesters.
“There are 1.4 billion Chinese standing firmly behind Hong Kong police,” the lyrics state. “They will always protect Hong Kong without any hesitation. Airplanes, tanks and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army all gathering in Shenzhen waiting for command to wipe out terrorists [protesters] if needed.”