10/04/2019, 16.49
HONG KONG – CHINA
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Masks banned in protests under Hong Kong’s emergency rule

by Paul Wang

Chief Executive Carrie Lam wants to implement the regulation claiming she is worried about the "dangerous position" in which "young people" find themselves. Anyone wearing a mask in public could get up to a year in prison and a HK,000 fine. Law enforcement will continue to wear masks because they can be "easily identified". For the Civic Human Rights Front, instead of regaining people's trust, the government is increasingly “pushing Hong Kong into the abyss".

 

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Effective midnight, covering one’s face during protests will be illegal in accordance with a 1922, British-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance (ERO). Under its provisions, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam can ban wearing masks in authorised and unauthorised public gatherings.

Speaking to the media after a meeting with her executive council, Lam explained that this law "is a necessary decision considering the situation today ".

Since the anti-extradition movement began, protesters have taken to wearing surgical or other elaborate masks, including gas masks and goggles (picture 1). The first reason is that people fear the police can identify them through facial recognition software. The second is the police use of water cannons and tear gas that make breathing difficult.

Lam said she wanted to enforce the ERO because of the "dangerous position" in which "young people" find themselves. About 38 per cent of those arrested so far (around 1,100) are students.

From now on, anyone wearing a mask in public could get up to a year in prison and a fine of HK,000 (US$ 3,200). Those who wear masks for work, health or religious reasons are exempt.

Carrie Lam did not address any of the movement’s five demands, like an independent inquiry into excessive use of force by the police and universal suffrage. The government's silence is the spark that fuels protests and drives some fringe groups to resort to violence.

At a press briefing, some journalists asked if even the policemen will be forced to uncover their faces. The Secretary of Security, John Lee, said that police will continue to wear masks since they can be "easily identified" by the identification number on their helmets.

In reality, police agents disguised as protesters have taken part in many protests and clashes. Some police agents have no identification number or papers proving they are in the police (picture 2).

The Civic Human Rights Front (CHRF), an association of about 50 NGOs that has promoted a number of protests in recent weeks, slammed the government's move. In a statement it first called for policemen to stop using masks and show their identity, especially after using "excessive and lethal strength", as in the case of the young man hit in the chest by a bullet.

The Front also wants the government to meet the demands of the population, before cracking down further. Carrie Lam and her government should try to "recover the public’s faith and confidence in the government”. Instead," they have intensified efforts to suppress the people with malevolent laws [. . .] further pushing Hong Kong into the abyss."

As Lam spoke at the briefing, anti-ERO protests broke out across Hong Kong. Thousands of people from the business district took to the streets in Central, wearing a mask as a challenge t0 the Ordinance (pictures 3 and 4).

Lam's decision also seems to violate the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution, approved by Great Britain and China. Specifically, the Basic Law states that only Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo), not the chief executive, can pass and enact laws. Lam’s action is therefore unconstitutional.

Civic Party LegCo member Dennis Kwok said that the anti-mask ordinance strips the legislature of its power to enact laws, noting that “The government said the law was used to handle public danger. But this law will only create a bigger political confrontation.”

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