Violence Follows HK Government’s Activation of Emergency Powers

As anticipated, the Hong Kong government on Friday enacted colonial-era emergency powers–for the first time in over 50 years–allowing them to declare the use of face masks, paint, or any other facial obstruction illegal at public gatherings, punishable by fines and six months jail time. This comes as pro- protesters approach their 18th consecutive weekend of demonstration with public anger high following a teenage protester being shot by police. At CNN, Joshua Berlinger and Helen Regan report:

The mask ban comes into effect on October 5, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced at a press conference Friday, following a special meeting of her cabinet, the Executive Council.

The embattled leader said the order to enact the “Prohibition On Face Covering Regulation” was a “necessary decision” but insisted it does not mean Hong Kong was in a state of emergency.

“We are now in a rather extensive and serious public danger. It is essential for us to stop violence and restore calm to society as soon as possible,” she said. “We believe the new law will create a deterrent effect against masked protesters and rioters.”

Lam said she won’t set a date to nullify the anti-mask law. [Source]

At Inkstone, Viola Zhou takes a closer look at the particulars of the face mask ban:

Under the ban, people will be prohibited from covering up their faces with masks, paint or other objects during all “public assemblies,” which would include marches or rallies – both authorized and unauthorized ones.

Breaking the law would result in a prison sentence of up to a year and a fine of HK$25,000, which is about $3,200.

The regulation offers exemptions for those who need to wear masks for professional activities, religious beliefs or health reasons.

The exemption would apply to journalists who need to wear gas masks to cover the ongoing protests.

Police will be allowed to ask people to temporarily remove their masks in public places in order to verify their identities. [Source]

High-profile pro-democracy protester Joshua Wong, one of many lawmakers and demonstrators recently arrested, condemned the move as he was turning in his application to compete in upcoming local elections.

As many observers predicted, the government action has angered protesters, who have responded with violent resistance, for which authorities have promised retaliation under the emergency powers. At The Guardian, Emma Graham-Harrison reports:

After darkness fell, crowds set fire to two metro stations and vandalised shops and businesses considered pro-China; police responded with teargas, and in at least one case live ammunition.

There were reports that a student had been hit in the thigh by a bullet, after a group of protesters attacked an off-duty police officer. Hospital authorities said they had received a 14-year-old boy, who was in a serious condition.

[…] [The emergency regulations ordinance] gives Lam virtually unlimited powers, although legal scholars said the government could be challenged in court if anything it did violated the Basic Law, the territory’s constitution.

“We have the duty to use all available means to stop the escalating violence and restore calmness in society,” Lam said in a combative press conference unveiling the new law. “The decision to invoke the emergency regulations ordinance is a difficult, but also a necessary one for public interest.”

[…] Protesters, rights groups and academics denounced the use of emergency powers as a gross abuse of power, and a dangerous precedent for a city that for the last 20 years has enjoyed an unusual combination of civic freedoms without full democratic rule. [Source]

BBC News notes that Beijing welcomed the Hong Kong government move, and gives more information on the historical context of the emergency powers:

[…] Beijing welcomed the move, saying the ban was “extremely necessary” to end the violent protests.

[…] The legislation invoked by Ms Lam, called the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, dates to 1922 and has not been used in more than 50 years.

It enables the chief executive to bypass the normal legislative process, where bills have to go through the city’s parliament, the Legislative Council.

The ERO was last used in 1967 to help stop riots in the territory’s trading hub. [Source]

Bloomberg’s Shelly Banjo has published a primer on the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, what is currently being considered under it, and noting how its wide jurisdiction could include cyberspace:

2. What’s being considered?

Associations representing front-line police officers and inspectors have urged the city to impose curfews. Some pro-China lawmakers in Hong Kong have called for a ban on wearing masks at public gatherings, a move aimed at making it harder for protesters to hide their identity. Local media reports said the mask ban was likely to be adopted at a meeting of the city’s Executive Council on Friday.

3. Does the law cover the internet?

It would seem so. The law was last invoked during Hong Kong’s 1967 riots — long before the internet. But the authority granted specifically covers “the control and suppression of publications, writings, maps, plans, photographs, communications and means of communication.”

4. How could it be disrupted?

Chief Executive Carrie Lam could order private telecommunication companies to cut internet services delivered through fixed-line and mobile phone networks. Alternatively, she could compel these providers to take other measures including slowing internet speeds, disabling particular mobile phone networks and public WiFi spots or blocking certain websites and platforms. […] [Source]

Writing at The Nation, Wilfred Chan and JN Chien argue that the emergency powers ordinance and the face mask ban are an excuse for police to heighten their crackdown and impose the will of Beijing:

[…] In her initial announcement earlier today, Lam claimed the ERO would be used only to ban wearing face masks in public. But the ERO is an autocrat’s dream: It empowers the city’s leader to “make any regulations whatsoever which he may consider desirable in the public interest.” This allows Beijing-backed leader Lam and her government to effectively suspend most Hongkongers’ civil rights; revoke the freedom of speech and press; arrest, detain, and deport citizens at will; enter and search premises without a warrant; and appropriate or seize property and assets.

[…] The appearance of the Emergency Regulations Ordinance at these critical junctures of Hong Kong’s history demonstrates the true character of the territory’s vaunted rule of law, the so-called “core value” that has made Hong Kong a conduit for so much Western and Chinese capital. There is the fact that the ERO almost certainly violates Hong Kong’s Bill of Rights; the question is whether that even matters. (As of October 4, Hong Kong’s High Court has denied an activist’s request for an interim injunction against the mask ban.) After all, as argued by protester Brian Leung—now in exile after leading a desperate, unauthorized charge into the city’s Legislative Council in July—the “rule of law” is nothing more than a colonial myth: Hong Kong’s legislation has been authored by and for the governing elite, not the people. That both China and Lam repeatedly invoke the concept in justifying increased police repression reveals that Hong Kong’s rule of law has only ever meant legalistic authoritarianism. […] [Source]

On Twitter, Hong Kong Legislative Council member Charles Mok commented:

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