China Politics

Violent protests continue in Hong Kong after anti-mask law comes into effect

Key Points
  • The anti-mask law in Hong Kong has incited another weekend of mass protests.
  • Hong Kong lawmaker, Holden Chow says it is hard to come to a conclusion whether the anti-mask law is effective or not, because it only came into effect a few days ago — but "we should see in short and medium term how it goes."
  • Pro-democracy lawmaker, Claudia Mo highlighted that "the Chief Executive has no power to enact regulations in the manner she has."
Pro-democracy protesters set barricade on fire at a demonstration in Causeway Bay district on October 6, 2019 in Hong Kong, China.
Anthony Kwan | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Hong Kong's anti-mask law incited another weekend of mass protests.

The city's chief executive Carrie Lam invoked emergency powers on Friday that "aimed to deter people from joining these unlawful assembly and put an end to the violence," a pro-establishment Hong Kong legislator, who approved of the new law, told CNBC on Monday.

"Apart (from) the anti-mask law, we also urge … the public to cut ties with the violence and of course, we urge this time everyone to calm down and step back and say 'no' to the violence," said Holden Chow, vice chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB).

Despite the face mask ban, which took effect on Saturday, anti-government protesters came out in force on the weekend, many donning masks. Protesters often wear gas masks and other face coverings to protect themselves from tear gas fired by police, as well as from being identified.

"Almost all protesters who carry out vandalism and violence covered their face," Lam said when she announced the face mask ban. "The purpose was to hide their identity and evade the law and they have become more and more daring."

Still, some have questioned the validity of the anti-mask ban.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo took to social media on Sunday to rebut Lam's decision to ban masks, saying that "the Chief Executive has no power to enact regulations in the manner she has."

Mo said it is "in the immediate public interest for Legco to publicly scrutinize, vet and/or debate the matter." The Legislative Council, or the local assembly, is informally referred to as Legco.

The city has been roiled by increasingly violent protests for over four months. The turmoil was sparked by a now withdrawn bill that would have enabled suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China for trial.

Hong Kong is not the first to introduce a ban on masks during mass protests. Earlier this year, France introduced a similar ban in response to the country's "yellow vest" movement that swept the European country starting last November.

What does the ban mean?

Under the 1922 law, the chief executive is allowed to "make any regulations whatsoever which he may consider desirable in the public interest." It also states that any regulation drafted under this ordinance will remain in place until repealed by the chief executive, Hong Kong's top leader.

The anti-mask law will be put on table, would be discussed at Legco proceedings.
Holden Chow
Hong Kong legislator

Consequences for breaking the ban include up to one year in jail and a fine of 25,000 Hong Kong dollars, or $3,187. Violators must be prosecuted within a year of the date on which the prohibition was broken, according to a copy of the ban.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Chow said that it's hard to come to a conclusion on whether the anti-mask law is effective or not, as it's only been a few days, but "we should see in short and medium term how it goes."

He emphasized that when the Legislative Council returns from its summer break, the emergency regulation will be put through normal procedures and there "will be a discussion" by lawmakers.

"The anti-mask law will be put on table, would be discussed at Legco proceedings," said Chow.

He said the Hong Kong government has, in fact, responded to the demand of an independent inquiry by appointing two more members to the council which investigates public complaints against the police force.

Chow added that protesters should acknowledge the government's response to their requests.

Violence continues

Over the weekend, protesters set underground rail stations on fire, hurled petrol bombs at police and burned the Chinese national flag. Outside a major rail station that was set on fire, a sign read: "If we burn, you burn with us," reported Reuters.

The People's Liberation Army (PLA) garrison in Kowloon district warned a crowd of hundreds of protesters they could be arrested for targeting its troops and barracks walls with laser lights.

Reuters also reported that Chinese military personnel were seen standing on the roof of PLA's Osborn Barracks in Kowloon Tong district, holding up a sign in English and Chinese which read: "Warning. You are in breach of the law. You may be prosecuted."

"We are seeing the city has been heavily vandalized and you see all the transport systems being heavily vandalized, we are almost paralyzed right now in the city," said Chow, adding that he believes the majority of Hong Kong citizens are peaceful but the minority who are carrying out extreme acts of violence are destroying the city.

Asked whether he believed Beijing will deploy troops into Hong Kong as violence escalates, Chow said: "If the violence escalates, nobody will know what happens next but at the same time, at the time being, I will assure you we understanding the Hong Kong SAR government is capable of handling the situation, so the PLA will not deal with the situation." Hong Kong is also referred to as a Special Administrative Region.

The Emergency Regulations Ordinance, which Lam invoked on Friday, states that the chief executive has the power to make regulations during situations of emergency or public danger. The regulations may include the following:

- censorship, and the control and suppression of publications, writings, maps, plans, photographs, communications and means of communication;

- arrest, detention, exclusion and deportation;

- control of the harbours, ports and waters of Hong Kong, and the movements of vessels;

- transportation by land, air or water, and the control of the transport of persons and things;

- the apprehension, trial and punishment of persons offending against the regulations or against any law in force in Hong Kong

— CNBC's Christine Wang contributed to this report.