Hong Kong announces ban on face masks at protests

Hong Kong’s government has announced a ban on wearing face masks at public gatherings, local media report.

Officials plan to use emergency legislation dating from the colonial era to invoke the measure, aimed at quelling anti-government protests.

The legislation, called the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, has not been used for over 50 years.

Hong Kong’s protests started in June, sparked by proposals to extradite suspected criminals to mainland China.

Critics feared this could undermine the city’s judicial independence and endanger dissidents.

The face mask ban was announced today after a meeting of the Executive Council in which emergency laws are likely to be enacted, local TV channel TVB reported.

The laws would grant Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, the authority to “make any regulations whatsoever which she may consider desirable in the public interest” in case of “emergency or public danger”.

Last used in 1967 to help stop violent riots in the territory’s trading hub, the laws could also give the government greater authority to make arrests, censor publications and search premises.

In recent weeks, the unrest has taken a more violent turn. An Indonesian journalist has been left permanently blinded in her right eye by a rubber bullet said to have been fired by police on Sunday. On Tuesday, an 18-year-old protester was wounded when a police officer fired a live bullet into his chest.

Face masks are often worn by protesters to help prevent them from being identified and arrested by authorities.

In the recent Hong Kong protests, police have used water cannon to spray blue dye on demonstrators to make it easier to identify them later.

We don’t yet know the contents of the rumoured emergency legislation, but protesters are already putting themselves on “high alert” in anticipation of Friday’s announcement. Some are still calling for flash mob protests on Thursday evening to go head, showing how defiant they remain.

The Civil Human Rights Front, which has organised a few peaceful “mega-marches” over the last four months, argues the police should, in fact, be the first to be banned from wearing masks. That would mean officers could be held accountable for any abuse of power. Police in Hong Kong have repeatedly denied allegations of brutality. -BBC

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