In Brief

Hong Kong to ban protesters from wearing masks

Colonial-era emergency powers would give executive sweeping powers to restrict communication and movement

Hong Kong’s embattled government is set to invoke colonial-era emergency power to prohibit protesters from wearing masks, as part of a broader crackdown on communications and movement.

According to the South China Morning Post, unnamed sources said that the government would invoke emergency laws that allow it to quickly ban face masks in protests as early as today.

Demonstrations, which started in June over plans to introduce an extradition bill that would have allowed Beijing to try dissidents and critics on the mainland, has spiralled into a full-blown crisis for Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed administration, with demonstrators now demanding the resignation of chief executive Carrie Lam and free and fair elections.

The stand-off between pro-democracy demonstrators and authorities turned violent this week after a police officer shot a protester in the chest with a live round.

Further protests are planned for this weekend, and if Lam invokes the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, which was introduced in 1922 by the British but has not be used for 50 years, “it will grant her sweeping powers, including restrictions on communication and movement” says The Times.

It would also include a ban on wearing face masks as public gatherings. NPR reports protesters “regularly wear a range of face masks in Hong Kong, from Guy Fawkes masks to thin surgical-style coverings and respirator-equipped face masks — which have the dual benefit of combating tear gas fired by police and obscuring the demonstrators' identities”.

Whether the law can be enforced remains to be seen. “There are many questions about how this ban would affect the protests” says the BBC’s Martin Yip. “It is also unclear how the overstretched police would carry it out.”

The Times says the ban “is certain to enrage protesters, especially frontline demonstrators, who do not want their families or employers to know about their role in the movement, which has polarised Hong Kong society”.

The Civil Human Rights Front, which has organised a few peaceful “mega-marches" over the last four months, has argued the police should, in fact, be the first to be banned from wearing masks, which would mean officers could be held accountable for any abuse of power.

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