Thousands protest as bid to block Hong Kong mask ban fails
Shouting “Wearing mask is not a crime,” tens of thousands of protesters braved the rain Sunday to march in central Hong Kong as a court rejected a second legal attempt to block a mask ban aimed at quashing violence during four months of pro-democracy rallies.
The ban took effect Saturday, triggering more clashes and destruction over the last two days in the semiautonomous Chinese territory. A teen protester was shot in the thigh Friday night when an off-duty police officer fired his pistol in self-defense.
Lawmaker Dennis Kwok said the High Court refused to grant an injunction on the mask ban, but it agreed to hear later this month an application by 24 legislators against Hong Long leader Carrie Lam’s use of emergency powers to impose the measure by circumventing the legislature.
The beleaguered leader has said the ban on masks, which allows radical protesters to conceal their identity, was needed to stop widespread violence that “semi-paralyzed” the city. It is also the biggest challenge for Chinese President Xi Jinping since the former British colonial returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Many malls and shops were closed and the entire MTR network of subways and trains was shut down Saturday after the overnight rampage. About half of the city’s 94 subway stations reopened Sunday, but many malls, especially in the Causeway Bay shopping district, remained closed as thousands of protesters, most wearing masks in defiance, marched with umbrellas.
Critics fear that the use of the Emergency Regulations Ordinance that gives Lam broad powers to implement any measures she deems necessary in an emergency would pave the way for more draconian regulations. The law was enacted by British colonial rulers in 1922 to quell a seamen’s strike and last used in 1967 to crush riots.
Lam has not ruled out further measures if violence continues.
“This emergency law is so ancient and draconian. Carrie Lam is using it as some sort of weapon of mass destruction to nuke Hong Kong,” legislator Claudia Mo said.
Even though the court rejected the legal challenge, Kwok and Mo welcomed the decision to expedite the hearing. The court didn’t give any dates but indicated it would be at the end of this month.
“This is a constitutional case. The court has acknowledged there is controversy involving the use of the emergency law,” Mo said.
Lam has said she will seek the backing of the legislature when it resumes Oct. 16. Mo called it a sham because only Lam has the power to repeal the mask ban under the emergency law.
Many protesters who wore masks Sunday said the ban curtailed their freedom of expression. The ban applies to both illegal and police-approved gatherings and carries a penalty of up to a year in jail and a fine.
“Carrie Lam is not the god of Hong Kong. She can’t do anything she likes,” said retiree Patricia Anyeung, who marched with her sister, Rebecca. Both wore masks. She said she has marched for months and won’t be cowed.
“They can’t arrest us all. There are thousands of us,” she said. “There is no going back. We are at the point of no return.” Patricia Anyeung, who described herself as a wealthy retiree with a British passport, said she may leave if Hong Kong’s freedom is extinguished.
Some protesters spray painted the word “resist” along some pavement.
Many peaceful demonstrators say violence has become a means to an end, the only way for young masked protesters to force the government to bend to clamors for full democracy and other demands.
But the shooting of the teen Friday night — the second victim of gunfire since the protests began in early June — stoked fears of more bloody confrontations. An 18-year-old protester was shot at close range by a riot police officer Tuesday. He has been charged with rioting and assaulting police, while the younger teen has been arrested.
The protest movement that started in June over a now-abandoned bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited for trial in mainland China has snowballed into an anti-China movement as protesters demand more democratic rights, including direct elections for the city’s leader and police accountability.
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