HONG Kong pro-democracy protesters have donned cartoon character masks and mocked China’s leaders while forming human chains in defiance of a ban on face coverings at public assemblies.

Gathering along the city’s subway lines on Friday night, many protest supporters masqueraded as Winnie-the-Pooh or Guy Fawkes.

They held up their phone lights and chanted slogans calling for a “revolution of our times” – a battle cry of the five-month-long movement that has shaken the semi-autonomous Chinese city with violent confrontations between protesters and police.

Chinese internet users have joked that Chinese president Xi Jinping resembles AA Milne’s talking bear character as depicted in the Walt Disney animated movies – leading the country’s censors to scrub online references to it.

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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 protests.

The peaceful event came ahead of the mass rally today that organisers are planning to press their demands at. Police refused to authorise the march, citing risks to public safety and order.

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam 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 concerns that their identities will be shared with China’s massive state security apparatus.