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A protester wearing a mask joins others at a rally at Tamar Park in Hong Kong on Saturday, September 28, to mark the fifth anniversary of the start of the 2014 Occupy movement. Photo: AP

ExclusiveAnti-mask law targeting Hong Kong protesters could come into force by midnight on Friday, as government considers invoking emergency powers

  • Executive Council to discuss possibility of giving police power to demand anyone wearing a mask in public removes it
  • Breaking law could result in person being sent to jail for up to a year, but pro-establishment groups want that to be 10 years

A new law banning people in Hong Kong from wearing masks at public assemblies could come into force as early as midnight on Friday, a government source told the Post.

As authorities struggle to control the increasingly violent civil unrest that has gripped the city for months, another source previously told the Post breaking the law would result in a prison sentence of up to a year, or a fine of HK$25,000.

The Executive Council, the city leader’s de facto cabinet, was expected to discuss the matter on Friday morning, and members were also likely to discuss whether to introduce a law allowing police to demand people wearing a mask in public remove it, if officers suspect that person is trying to hide their identity.

The special meeting came as Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor decides whether to impose the anti-mask law through legislation by invoking a tough, colonial-era emergency law that has not been used in more than half a century.

“The Security Bureau provides two provisions in the draft,” the source said. “The second one suggests giving officers the power to demand anyone to remove their mask in a public place, regardless of whether the person is engaged in an assembly.

“Wearing the mask for medical and religious reasons could be exempted. But as long as officers suspect the wearer does so just to hide their identity, police can demand the removal of the mask, or else the person could be subject to arrest and a six-month jail term if convicted.”

The source added the ban was meant to target people wearing masks who break the law. “It’s not meant to just remove masks from anyone,” they said.

The other provision would see a law banning protesters wearing a mask at any public order event, or risk going to jail for a year.

“The bureau suggested the legislation come into effect at midnight, until further notice,” the source added.

From streets to courts, experts say anti-mask law would be tough to enforce

Lam is expected to announce the implementation of the new law on Friday afternoon, alongside security minister John Lee Ka-chiu.

The administration has been under mounting pressure from its political allies to put a stop to nearly four months of anti-government protests, and the anti-mask law became a matter of urgency after radicals marred China’s National Day celebrations on October 1 with a violent rampage across Hong Kong,

The violence led to the first case of police shooting and wounding a protester using live ammunition.

Approval by the city’s Legislative Council is not required if the ban is imposed by invoking the emergency law, and it could only amend or strike down the law after it has been implemented.

But, the city’s biggest pro-establishment camp suggested the government follow the model used by Canada, where wearing masks during riots or unlawful assemblies carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

While questions have been raised over the difficulties of enforcing such a law, legal experts were quick to warn that invoking emergency powers would destroy due process, and pave the way for more draconian regulations.