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Global Times

HK chief enacts anti-mask law, calls it a 'necessary, responsible' move

Global Times

By Chen Qingqing and Bai Yunyi in Hong Kong Published: 2019/10/4 16:33:32

Hong Kong SAR Chief Executive Carrie Lam Friday invoked emergency powers to enact a law banning face masks at illegal public assemblies. The law, which takes effect on Saturday, is expected to help quell months of anti-government violence and chaos in Hong Kong.

The new rule forbids people at illegal assemblies to hide their identity with masks and related articles. Any person who violates the law faces up to a year in jail and a fine of HK$25,000. The Ordinance comes with exceptions.

While announcing the law to reporters, Lam said: "We must stop the violence."

"It's not an easy decision to ban masks, but a necessary one. It's not to say Hong Kong is in a state of emergency," Lam said at a press conference on Friday.

Over the past few weeks, Hong Kong has been experiencing escalating violence, which is now destroying Hong Kong, and what the government should do at its outmost is to stop the violence, she added.

"As more and more young people take part in riots, we hope this new regulation would deter young protesters and keep them away from violence," said Lam.

Lam noted the enactment of the law is a responsible decision.

"It is our objective to de-escalate the violence, but we are not absolutely sure violence would end. Government and law enforcement agencies are taking action. We appeal to society to help us end the violence," Lam said.

This is a regulation subject to vetting, which will be submitted to the LegCo on October 16.

Those engaged in using facial covering for safety reasons, for religious purposes and pre-existing medical or health reasons are exempted from the anti-mask law.

On whether the Hong Kong government will take the next step to impose a curfew, Lam said the authority will review all measures to stop the violence, and that the government is determined to do so.

Wang Jiang, an associate research fellow at the Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times Friday that the Hong Kong government has a lot of measures under the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, and the anti-mask law is the lightest one, which means the government has exercised restraint and there is no abuse of the emergency ordinance.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, Hong Kong Senior Counsel, told the Global Times on Friday that enacting emergency law would necessarily need to surpass legislature, and also in emergent situation, "we do not necessarily need normal legislature procedure, considering LegCo is now halting the meetings."

"In terms of law enforcement, the law will be implemented to protect the group's interests, but not individual interests. But we cannot stop making new rules because of challenges," Tong said.

During the press conference, Lam stressed that forbidding people from wearing masks will not suppress people's freedom of speech, as the law applies to people marching illegally and violently, and is aimed at rioters.

Hong Kong Education Bureau sent a letter Friday afternoon to the principals of all schools and colleges across Hong Kong and demanded them to remind students not to wear masks in or outside the campus.

A number of countries have banned masks.

France, suffering from the yellow vest movement, "signed into law legislation giving security forces greater powers at demonstrations," AFP reported in April this year.

It would have given the authorities the power to ban from demonstrations any individual "posing a particularly serious threat to public order", according to the AFP report.

France's Constitutional Council also made covering the face at a protest a criminal offense, imposing a one-year jail sentence and a fine of 15,000 euro ($17,000).

The Wall Street Journal reported in July that 15 US states ban the use of masks at protests and rallies.

The Canadian Parliament introduced Bill C-309 in 2013, prohibiting the wearing of masks during a riot or other unlawful assembly.

No government in the world would tolerate rioters wearing masks to hide their identities while causing violence, Ding Yifan, a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times on Friday.

Ding also noted strong enforcement is required for Hong Kong's new regulation to be effective, citing French police officers, who could arrest unlawful protesters in a rally, compared to a restrained Hong Kong police force.

Ding said the judicial system should give police officers the confidence to enforce the law without fear of retaliation.

Kennedy Wong Ying-ho, solicitor of the Supreme Court of Hong Kong, said the anti-mask law in Hong Kong will have an effect on Hong Kong residents, as the majority of Hong Kong people will avoid violating it.

"If they insist on wearing masks during unauthorized assemblies, they will be charged," Wong told the Global Times on Friday.

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