The Financial Express

Unrest-hit Hong Kong outlaws wearing masks in protests

Published: October 04, 2019 16:08:49 | Updated: October 05, 2019 13:00:01

Masked rioters obstruct road traffic at Queen's Road East in Hong Kong, south China, Sept 15, 2019. (Xinhua) Masked rioters obstruct road traffic at Queen's Road East in Hong Kong, south China, Sept 15, 2019. (Xinhua)

The government of China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) on Friday established an anti-mask law in the latest drive to end the prolonged violence.

HKSAR Chief Executive Carrie Lam told a press conference that the government has invoked the power under the Emergency Regulations Ordinance and made a new regulation in the name of Prohibition on Face-Covering Regulation, to "create a deterrent effect against masked, violent protesters and rioters."

The ban, designed to end violence and restore order, will come into effect on Friday midnight, Lam said.

The move added Hong Kong to the list of countries and regions that have anti-mask legislations, including France, Canada and many states in the United States. In Canada, those breaking the anti-mask law during a riot or unlawful assembly face up to 10 years in prison. 

Unrest has raged for more than three months in Hong Kong as radical protesters, often black-clad and masked, set fires on streets, vandalised public facilities including metro stations, and assaulted police, civilians and businesses.

Advocates for the ban said masks have been used by rioters to conceal identities and escape legal penalties in the drawn-out unrest, leading to a higher level of aggression on their part.

Lam said the violence has escalated to a very alarming level in the past few days, causing numerous injuries, and "leading Hong Kong to a chaotic and panic situation," with more participation of students.

About 1,100 people have been injured during recent violent incidents, including over 300 law enforcers. Lam said the new law, in the name of Prohibition on Face-covering Regulation, will create a deterrent effect against masked, violent protesters and rioters, and assist the police in law enforcement.

While violent protesters will be targeted, other people who have to wear a mask for special needs will be applicable to exemption clauses.

Although the Emergency Regulations Ordinance has been invoked, Lam stressed that Hong Kong is not in a state of emergency. However, she stated Hong Kong is now in an extensive and serious public danger. "It is essential for us to stop violence and restore calmness in society as soon as possible."

The anti-mask law, as a piece of subsidiary legislation subject to a negative vetting, will be firstly established and then tabled in the Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo) for discussion. The meeting of the LegCo will be resumed on Oct. 16.

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