Hong Kong Plans to Outlaw Masks

Government would invoke colonial-era emergency powers for the first time
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 3, 2019 3:33 PM CDT
Hong Kong Plans to Outlaw Masks
Supporters wearing masks attend a strike in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Hundreds of students at a college staged a strike to condemn the police shooting of a teenager during widespread violence in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory at pro-democracy protests that marred China's National Day.   (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

(Newser) – Hong Kong is moving toward enacting a ban on face masks like those pro-democracy demonstrators have been wearing in street protests. To do that, the government would start using emergency powers for the first time in a half-century that date to British colonial rule. The law allows the chief executive, Carrie Lam, to "make any regulations whatsoever" during an emergency, NPR reports. Once the powers are invoked, a legislator said he feared, "The next thing is they are going to extend the detention period, and the next is they are going to further curtail the Hong Kong people's rights and freedoms, including canceling District Council elections, all in the name of using the emergency regulation." Further steps aren't under consideration, per the Wall Street Journal. Once the ban is approved by Lam's executive council, it would take effect Friday.

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Police called for the ban after a demonstrator was shot by officers during protests Tuesday. The masks offer some protection against tear gas as well as making it more difficult to identify protesters. Foreign diplomats are among those who fear the ban will only inflame tensions. A Hong Kong professor said the emergency powers, which date to 1922, shouldn't override freedom of assembly, which is guaranteed, and could be challenged in court, per the Guardian. "The yearning for freedom, democracy and liberty are not going to go away just because you bring in more draconian regulations," the legislator said. (Read more Hong Kong stories.)

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