Hong Kong’s leader has invoked rarely-used emergency powers to ban people from wearing face masks during public assemblies, a move likely to infuriate the thousands of mainly young people involved in the months-long protest movement.
The ban will come into effect on October 5, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced at a press conference Friday, following a special meeting of her cabinet, the Executive Council.
In anticipation of the announcement, hundreds of people marched through Hong Kong’s central business district in protest against the ban. More protests are planned for the evening.
Lam said the order to enact the “Prohibition On Face Covering Regulation” was a “necessary decision” but insisted it does not mean Hong Kong was in a state of emergency.
“We are now in a rather extensive and serious public danger. It is essential for us to stop violence and restore calm to society as soon as possible,” she said. “We believe the new law will create a deterrent effect against masked protesters and rioters.”
Lam said she won’t set a date to nullify the anti-mask law.
The vast majority of people who have attended the city’s recent pro-democracy demonstrations do so wearing masks to hide their identity, fearful that they could be arrested or targeted by police.
Gas masks and respirators are used by protesters against tear gas, which is often used by authorities to disperse unauthorized gatherings in commonplace.
In order to enact such a ban the Chief Executive Office will invoke the city’s colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance, which grants the government sweeping emergency powers.
The legislation has not been used in more than half a decade and gives Lam the power to bypass the city’s legislature to “make any regulations whatsoever which he (or she) may consider desirable in the public interest.” Lam said the new law was subsidiary legislation and so will be debated by the Legislative Council when they meet later this month.
Introduced in 1922, the law was last used in 1967 during the leftist riots, that were followed by a campaign of terrorist bombings across Hong Kong and pitched battles between protesters and police. Fifty-one died throughout the turmoil, including 10 police officers.
The new law bans people from wearing facial coverings that obscure their identity, including paint, at unauthorized or authorized protests, or public processions. Those found guilty face up to a year in prison and a HKD $25,000 ($3,100) fine.
Lam said the regulation contains exemptions for people who do have legitimate reasons to wear face coverings — such as for religious, medical, or professional purposes.
Source : Various