Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers will challenge the newly imposed mask ban in court, arguing that Chief Executive Carrie Lam broke the law when she bypassed the legislature.
Filed jointly by all 24 democrats, the lawsuit targeted the Emergency Regulations Ordinance (ERO) – the colonial-era law that grants the city’s leader and her council of advisors wide-ranging powers to “make regulations on occasions of emergency or public danger.”
Democrats called for the mask ban to be suspended, before a proper judicial review hearing can be held. The court will hear their first round of arguments at Sunday 10am.
The lawmakers said that Lam “circumvented” the constitutional framework of One Country, Two Systems when she invoked the ERO to ban facial coverings at legal and unauthorised protests from Saturday.
“Since the Handover, there has never been an occasion when the chief executive enacted legislation without going through LegCo,” said Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok.
On Friday, the High Court dismissed a bid by activists Lester Shum and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung to suspend the law, saying that their case was not strong enough to outweigh the government’s rationale.
Kwok said that the democrats’ lawsuit was different, as they had special standing as lawmakers to make constitutional arguments.
They wrote letters to the chief executive and the LegCo president on Friday but received no reply, he added.
Carrie Lam ‘learned nothing’
In a televised message broadcast earlier on Saturday, Lam said that the protesters were responsible for a “very dark night” in Hong Kong, as she defended her use of the ERO.
“The Hong Kong SAR is determined to stop violence. I urge you to support the SAR government to stop violence in accordance with the law, condemn violence, and be determined in severing ties with rioters,” she said.
Kwok said that Lam was not intent on listening to the public’s demands, and that she would not stop at the anti-mask regulation.
“[Lam] sounded like she did six months ago, when she was promoting the anti-extradition bill and said her critics misunderstood the law,” he said.
“It proves that the chief executive has learned nothing, who has no humility and cannot accept she was wrong.”
Lawmaker Jeremy Tam also said the mask ban has emboldened the police to further intimidate the public. Citing an incident in Central on Saturday afternoon, Tam said that officers “tackled” a person who wore facial covering, despite that person not acting violently.
Under the newly imposed Prohibition on Face Covering Regulation, offenders could be sentenced to a year in jail and a fine of HK$25,000. The regulation also empowers officers to check the identity of masked individuals and to remove their masks.
Mass demonstrations and unrest in Hong Kong have continued for more than 17 weeks, first sparked by an extradition bill that will soon be withdrawn. But the protests have morphed into a sometimes violent wider movement against the police use of force and calls for democracy.
On Saturday, protests continued into the night around Kowloon though many online have called for a “rest day” ahead of larger protests planned for Sunday.
Hong Kong Free Press relies on direct reader support. Help safeguard independent journalism and press freedom as we invest more in freelancers, overtime, safety gear & insurance during this summer’s protests. 10 ways to support us.