Anti-government protesters hold multi-national flags during a march in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, on September 29, 2019. Photo: AFP via Eyepress/James Lee

The Hong Kong government will soon ban the face masks worn by protesters by invoking the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, a law introduced by the British colonial government in 1922 to combat strikes in the city.

According to the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, the Chief Executive in the Executive Council may make any regulations he or she may consider desirable in the public interest when there is an occasion of emergency or public danger in Hong Kong.

The law has only been invoked once, during the 1967 Hong Kong riots. It can be used for censorship, the control and suppression of publications, writing, maps, plans, photographs, communications and means of communication, arrests, detention, exclusion and deportation and control of the harbors, ports and waters of Hong Kong as well as the movements of vessels.

On Thursday afternoon, several Hong Kong media, citing an unnamed government source, reported that the Executive Council will hold an urgent meeting on Friday morning and then launch the anti-mask law as violent protests have been escalating in the city.

The source said the Executive Council had originally planned to discuss the matter at the weekly meeting on October 8, but the government preferred to pass the law as soon as possible to contain the situation over the coming long weekend between October 5 and 7.

According to an online post, people called for the protest anthem Glory To Hong Kong to be sung in shopping malls in 18 districts across the city at 9pm on Friday. They also called for a disruption of the businesses in key shopping malls in Kowloon at 1pm on Saturday, a rally against police brutality in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay at 2pm on Sunday and a mourning ceremony on Monday for those who were allegedly killed during an August 31 police operation in Prince Edward MTR station.

Invoking the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to launch the anti-mask law or extend the detention period after an arrest is a better choice than imposing a curfew, which would seriously affect the daily lives of Hong Kong people, Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a non-official Executive Council member, said in a radio program on Thursday morning.

However, he said he was worried that the use of the emergency law would hurt Hong Kong’s global image.

The Hong Kong government should not invoke the emergency law or launch the anti-mask law as such moves would fuel social unrest in Hong Kong, said Eric Cheung tat-ming, Principal Lecturer and Director of the Clinical Legal Education at the University of Hong Kong.

The launch of an anti-mask law would be the first step for the city to become a totalized society, said Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, a Civic Party lawmaker.

On Thursday, a group of pro-establishment lawmakers, National People’s Congress members, retired police officers and pro-Beijing lawyers announced they would set up a committee to push forward the launch of an anti-mask law.

Elizabeth Quat, the committee’s convener and a legislator of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said a lot of people had used violence and vandalized public facilities during protests as they thought they could escape the law by wearing masks.

She said an anti-mask law would help to stop people from using violence, allow the police to gather criminal evidence more easily and provide a reason for the police to arrest suspicious people near protest sites. She urged the government to severely punish those who break this law.

The committee was set up after the Junior Police Officers’ Association of the Hong Kong Police Force, which represents 20,000 of the 30,000 police officers in the city, issued a statement on Wednesday and called for the government to impose a curfew and bring in the anti-mask law to end the chaotic situation in Hong Kong.

On September 24, Basic Law Committee vice-chairwoman Maria Tam Wai-chu said she hoped a law banning masks would be passed as soon as possible. She said masked people who had committed crimes should be wanted and arrested with the help of this law, which she claimed had been implemented in many countries.

On September 25, Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, the Secretary for Justice, said the Department of Justice had done research on a proposal to implement an anti-mask law in Hong Kong. She added that the government needed to consider the impact and consequences on society if such a law, even an emergency law, was implemented.

The government made a decision after violent protests on October 1, the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.

People wearing black shirts set a fire near the government headquarters in Admiralty. Photo: Asia Times

On October 1, tens of thousands of Hong Kong people marched from Causeway Bay to Admiralty, urging the government to meet their five political demands, which include an independent inquiry into police brutality, the withdrawal of the “riot” characterization of the June 12 protests, the release of all arrested protesters and the implementation of genuine universal suffrage. The government agreed to their key demand – the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill –  on September 4.

There were protests in five other districts – Wong Tai Sin, Sham Shui Po in Kowloon, Tsuen Wan, Shatin and Tuen Mun in the New Territories. Black shirt-wearing people vandalized the exits of some MTR stations, as well as shops, restaurants and bank ATMs owned by Chinese firms or pro-Beijing entrepreneurs.

A total of 269 people were arrested and 25 police officers were injured. An 18-year-old man was shot in the chest by an officer during a confrontation in Tsuen Wan.

Read: Show of defiance in HK on China’s National Day

Read: Hundreds arrested in protests in six HK districts

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