Hong Kong Bans Face Masks in Public Assemblies to Curb Violent Protests
The Hong Kong government said on Friday that it would ban people from covering up their faces in public assemblies, in a bid to stop escalated violence amid the city’s ongoing protests.
Most protesters have used face masks of various kinds to hide their identities against arrest and retribution as well as to protect against the tear gas being used by police. Supporters say the face mask ban will deter many protesters who wish to remain anonymous and so reduce the violence that has increased steadily during the more than 16 weeks of demonstrations. Critics warn the ban will only infuriate and embolden the most radical protesters and so lead to yet more violence.
The government invoked the power under the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, a colonial-era law dating back to 1922 that gives the government broad powers to enact measures to protect public safety. The last time that the law was used was in 1967.
The ban went into effect at midnight Friday and applies not only to “unlawful and unauthorised” assemblies but public meetings and processions regulated under the Public Order Ordinance of Hong Kong, according to the official announcement.
Offenders will be liable to a maximum fine of HK$25,000 ($3,188.9) and imprisonment for up to one year, according to the government.
“We believe that the new law will create a deterrent effect against masked violent protesters and rioters and will assist Police in their law enforcement,” Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at the press conference introducing the new measure.
Protests against a proposed law that would have allowed extradition of those accused of a crime to several jurisdictions — including the Chinese mainland — started in early June as peaceful rallies but evolved into violent clashes between police and protestors. The persistent turmoil has dramatically slowed business activity in Hong Kong -- with tourist shunning the city and leaving hotels nearly empty -- fueling concerns that the city will slip into a recession.
A charity fund of Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing said it would donate HK$1 billion to ease the pressure on small businesses in Hong Kong and assist government policies. The Hong Kong government last month unveiled a HK$19.1 billion economic relief package.
Hong Kong’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew 0.5% in the second quarter from the same period last year, the slowest increase in nearly a decade. Paul Chan Mo-po, the financial secretary of the special administrative region, said that it will enter a technical recession if GDP continues to decline in the third quarter.
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