A group of pro-Beijing figures have urged the Hong Kong government to establish an anti-mask law targeting people at unauthorised protests.
Lawmaker Elizabeth Quat of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said several countries have enacted similar laws including some states in the United States and some European Union countries: “We can see that an anti-mask law would not violate internationally recognised human rights,” she said.
Hong Kong has seen over 17 weeks of protests sparked by the government’s soon-to-be-withdrawn extradition law. The sometimes violent demonstrations have evolved into wider calls for democracy, police accountability, amnesty for those arrested since June, as well as other community grievances.
Quat’s comments came as media outlets TVB and SCMP cited unnamed sources as saying that the Executive Council will hold a special meeting on Friday to approve an anti-mask law using the Emergency Regulations Ordinance (ERO), before the government announces the measure. News outlet HK01 said the announcement may come on Saturday.
The ERO is a colonial-era law that gives the chief executive unlimited power in the event of an “emergency or public danger.” The ERO, introduced in 1922, has not been used since the 1967 leftist riots.
Quat said she had proposed drafting a private members’ bill to pass the anti-mask law at the Legislative Council that did not require using the ERO. She said an anti-mask law established using the ERO would not be permanent but could be considered as it would be helpful in dealing with the ongoing protests.
She said the Canadian version of the law would be appropriate to replicate as it targeted unlawful assemblies and riots, and has clear exemptions such as for work, driving and medical reasons. She said police officers should be exempted as well.
Quat said that even with the law, implementation would not be easy.
“Banning drugs is also difficult. Is it the case that with laws banning drugs, there would no-one abusing or selling drugs? No. But with the laws, I believe there would be fewer people abusing or selling drugs. I believe an anti-mask law would have the same result,” she added.
Netizens have widely shared a speech by jailed activist Edward Leung about an anti-mask law during his 2016 election campaign.
“A few years ago, Ukraine passed an anti-mask law. Do you what happened in Ukraine? A revolution started in Ukraine. You want to do it? Do it, we will fight till the end,” he said.
University of Hong Kong legal scholar Eric Cheung said on an RTHK programme that the implementation of an anti-mask law may have adverse effects.
“I hope the government will stop its plans and not use the wrong method to handle Hong Kong’s issues,” he said.
Cheung said his friends in the financial sector had told them they may pull funds from Hong Kong once the ERO is used.
“If the ERO is used, there are no appropriate legislative procedures anymore, and Hong Kong can hardly be seen as an international finance centre,” he said.
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