A Hong Kong judge has doubled down on his decision to remove people wearing yellow masks from his courtroom, but clarified it was based on “political demands” printed on the facial coverings rather than the colour favoured by anti-government protesters . District Judge Ernest Lin Kam-hung on Wednesday said the move was intended to prevent the court from turning into “a venue for political disputes and tussles”, adding he had taken an “impartial” approach when telling his clerk to instruct three in attendance to replace their masks. On Monday at Wan Chai District Court, Lin heard the guilty pleas of four suspects who had taken part in an illegal assembly at a shopping centre, where three people had been assaulted by protesters. I do not want the court to become a venue for expressing political demands, so I instructed my clerk to urge them to change their masks District Judge Ernest Lin At least one of the yellow masks worn by the three attending the hearing was emblazoned with the acronym “FDNOL”, believed to be a reference to the popular protest slogan “Five demands, not one less” – considered a possible breach of the Beijing-imposed national security law under internal police guidelines. Before sentencing on Wednesday, Lin said he banned the bright yellow face coverings not because their colour was associated with the anti-government movement, but because they contained expressions of a political nature. “I saw members of the public inside the courtroom wearing yellow masks with political demands printed on them. I do not want the court to become a venue for expressing political demands, so I instructed my clerk to urge them to change their masks,” the judge said, adding the ban would allow him to focus on the legal issues before the court. “The court’s order is not relevant to the style or colour of face masks, nor does it amount to a value judgment on the political beliefs or demands such masks embody. I am not barring any members of the public from attending court hearings because of their political or religious beliefs.” Before the start of Wednesday’s hearing, Lin’s clerk told attendees to replace their masks if they bore any words. Those who refused would be allowed to watch the live broadcast of the proceedings in another courtroom, the clerk added. No one was seen wearing a yellow mask. Lin’s decision sparked debate among legal scholars and experts. While some argued the judge was entitled to ban silent political protests in the courtroom, others urged him to exercise his power proportionately. Remarks made by Lin about the case, meanwhile, have raised the ire of journalist groups. While watching video footage submitted by prosecutors on Monday, Lin alleged that reporters at the scene had “constituted a part of the riot” by “standing there” and “preventing the victims from leaving”. In a statement, the Hong Kong Journalists Association expressed disappointment and concern, saying the judge’s remarks were inaccurate and lacked an understanding of the press’ working environment. On Wednesday, Lin walked back his accusations to a degree, saying the footage had misled him into believing journalists had been obstructive at the scene. While applauding journalists for “bravely” reporting on the shopping centre protest, Lin said at least four to five people wearing reflective vests had stood in front of two victims in the case, forming a semicircle that effectively blocked their exit. Mask manufacturer suspends business after designs spark accusations of security law violations “I believe professional journalists would not [knowingly] commit an offence, but the footage from that day could indeed cause misunderstandings,” the judge added. The four defendants – Shek Lang-tin, Lau Yiu-chung, Chan Kai-yin, and Chan Shui-chuen, aged between 29 and 36 – admitted engaging in the violence inside Amoy Plaza on the afternoon of September 14, 2019. Shek pleaded guilty to two counts of taking part in an unlawful assembly and one of wounding, while the other three each pleaded guilty to a charge of taking part in an unlawful assembly. The court heard that shortly before 5pm that day, protesters targeted a woman they said was from mainland China, punching her and using abusive language. Shek was seen pulling the woman’s hair during the chaos. In another incident, protesters, including the four defendants, attacked another woman and a man after accusing them of taking pictures of demonstrators at the scene. Passing sentence, Lin said the case involved large-scale bullying of people considered different by protesters. He also slammed bystanders for their inaction. “What is most shocking is that many people turned a blind eye and even took pictures [of the assaults]. The only commendable part was when some people offered assistance to the three victims and urged their attackers to stop,” the judge said. “The protesters have committed a serious breach of the peace.” Lin sentenced Shek to 20 months in jail and the remaining three to 19 months behind bars, adding deterrent sentences were necessary to safeguard public interest.