'Research' done for mask law

Local | Staff Reporters 12 Sep 2019

Hong Kong could be close to enacting a law banning protesters from wearing masks, after Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah said the government has done a "considerable amount of legal research" on the issue.

She also said the government is also looking into the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, such as on which occasions it can be used and the impact of invoking it.

Cheng spoke to reporters at the Belt and Road Summit at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center yesterday.

"Regarding the anti-mask law, we've heard a lot of comments on it. The topic has been raised by many people before incidents in recent months," she said.

The minister also responded to the city's richest man, Li Ka-shing's call for the government to "show mercy" to the young generation in recent protests.

Cheng said the Department of Justice has always made prosecutions based on evidence, regardless of the defendants' political stance.

"For individual cases, whether a person will be arrested or charged, we have different sets of established procedures on handling them. It's hard for me to comment on a general basis," she said.

Last month, two major political parties, including the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, demanded that an anti-mask law be introduced.

DAB's Gary Chan Hak-kan, chairman of Legislative Council's panel on security, said a lot of masked protesters have been present in the recent violence.

He cited psychological reports, stating that the violence committed by masked people was way higher than those unmasked. Banning masks would make the protests more peaceful, he said.

But Wong Ho-yin, spokesman of Civil Rights Observer, warned the anti-mask legislation would cause a chilling effect in society, adding that the government must also consider human rights.

"In the past few months, we saw that some protesters have had photos of their faces taken and posted online. Some even got fired by their employers because of this," Wong said. "We're afraid that this bill will violate people's freedom of speech and freedom of assembly."

Wong added that police have been using tear gas to disperse crowds frequently, even in peaceful protests. Protesters should at least have the right to protect their health by wearing masks.

Anti-mask laws have generally coincided with bans on facial coverings in overseas jurisdictions.

France and Belgium passed broad prohibitions on wearing clothing that covers one's face except for artistic or ceremonial purposes in 2010. Similar rules are in force in Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Egypt, Germany and the Netherlands.

Following the "yellow vest" protests, France passed another law earlier this year, slapping a fine of up to 15,000 euros and a year's imprisonment on those who wear masks or cover their faces during demonstrations.

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