Hong Kong invokes colonial-era emergency law to ban face masks

Emergency Regulations Ordinance in effect tomorrow . . . 

The Hong Kong government announced yesterday that it will use the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, a colonial-era law, to ban face masks and facial paint. Coming into effect on Saturday, the law prohibits any kind of facial cover, including at lawful assemblies. Violation of the ban could entail a one-year prison term, or a fine of approximately C$4,170. Hours after the announcement, protests erupted throughout the city as masked protesters clashed with police, who fired rounds of tear gas in return.

Sweeping powers . . .

The origin of the Emergency Regulations Ordinance dates back to 1922 during British colonial rule and was last invoked to stop riots in 1967. The Ordinance, if fully enacted, would give the Hong Kong government sweeping powers, from censorship of publications and communications, to appropriation, control, forfeiture, and disposition of property. Alvin Yeung, leader of an opposition party, told Bloomberg that, “once the Emergency Regulations Ordinance is invoked that would give a blank cheque to the chief executive. The only logical conclusion is that the situation will escalate.”

Who guards the guardians?

The Hong Kong Police Force sits at the centre of the continuing political firestorm over allegations of excessive use of force. A police officer shot a student protester with live ammunition at close range on Tuesday, stirring immense public anger. Reuters reported that leading up to protests that day, the police loosened its procedural guidelines on use of force. The most controversial change to the Force Procedure Manual pertains to the removal of a line that says, “officers will be accountable for their own actions.” As tensions continue to escalate, many protesters are asking who will hold the police accountable for their actions as the stand-off continues.