DHARAMSALA, 4 Oct: The Chief Executive of Hong Kong has invoked emergency powers and banned face masks earlier today.
Carrie Lam announced the ban on protesters wearing face mask at a press conference as she invoked colonial-era emergency powers for the first time in more than 50 years.
Lam reportedly said at the press conference that ban is intended to quell months of violent anti-government unrest in the island, emergency powers allow authorities to “make any regulations whatsoever” in whatever they deem to be in the public interest.
The ban comes into effect from Saturday and violators will be subjected to up to one year in jail and a fine of $25,000 Hong Kong dollars ($3,187).
Violations must be prosecuted within a year of the date on which the prohibition was broken, according to a copy of the ban.
Defending her move, the embattled leader has said that the face mask ban was necessary because “almost all protesters who carry out vandalism and violence covered their face.”
“The purpose was to hide their identity and evade the law and they have become more and more daring,” Lam has said.
The pro-democracy protesters, however, made it abundantly clear that the ban will not deter them a bit.
Condemning Lam’s decision, thousands of protesters marched through Hong Kong’s city centre ahead of Lam’s announcement on deploying emergency powers to ban people from wearing face masks at public rallies.
“This is an ancient, colonial set of regulations, and you don’t use them unless you can’t legislate anymore. Once you start, there’s no end to it,” Reuters quoted Martin Lee, a veteran activist and one of the city’s most prominent lawyers was quoted as saying in its report.
“Youngsters are risking their lives, they don’t mind being jailed for ten years, so wearing masks is not a problem,” AFP quoted Mary, a 34-year-old office worker wearing a surgical mask as saying at the protest.
Mass protests have gripped Hong Kong since June earlier this year. It was sparked by a controversial bill that would allow Hong Kongers to be extradited to mainland China.
Though the controversial bill has been withdrawn after months of protest, the move proved too little too late from the Hong Kong government as protesters are demanding all their five demands to be met which include the resignation of Hong Kong Chief executive Carrie Lam, an inquiry into police brutality, the release of all the arrested protesters and greater democratic reforms in Hong Kong apart from the withdrawal of the bill.
Protesters wearing masks is a common sight in the island to hide their identity and over fears, their employers could face pressure to take action against them.
Masks along with yellow helmets, goggles and respirators became essential for the protesters to protect themselves from tear gas and police projectiles.