A pro-Beijing lawmaker has raised eyebrows at a legislative meeting for apparently being unaware that the city’s emergency anti-mask law was already in effect.

Offenders face up to a year in prison for wearing a mask at authorised or unauthorised protests after the legislation was invoked under the 1922 Emergency Regulations Ordinance on October 5.

The law underwent a negative vetting process, meaning that it would be enacted ahead of the Legislative Council reviewing it.

Leung Che-cheung
Leung Che-cheung. Photo: LegCo Screenshot.

At a meeting to review the law on Tuesday, Wong Ting-kwong of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) was elected chair, and Eunice Yung of the New People’s Party was elected vice-chair.

During the meeting, DAB lawmaker Leung Che-cheung asked if the meeting was progressing speedily enough: “According to the schedule, we must complete the legislation by December 4, otherwise it will be effective automatically,” he said.

Tanya Chan
Tanya Chan. Photo: LegCo Screenshot.

His remarks attracted laughter from pro-democracy lawmakers.

“What are you laughing at? I am asking about it – if I knew then I wouldn’t ask,” Leung said.

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said the legislative brief clearly stated that the law became effective on October 5.

“It is really a miracle that some lawmaker did not do his homework, and did not even know the law was already effective,” she said. “Today is the 22nd, bro, it is already effective. It has been more than ten days. Have you woken up yet?”

Security Bureau blue sky slide
Photo: LegCo Screenshot.

When explaining the law, Deputy Secretary for Security Mimi Lee showed a photo of Hong Kong under a clear sky. She also showed photos of orderly queues at the MTR, alongside photos of MTR stations which were damaged after protests.

Though the extradition bill which prompted the demonstrations has been axed, demonstrators have been pouring on to the streets for 20 weeks as demands for accountability over alleged police misconduct engulf the movement.

“Four months ago, Hong Kong was like what is shown in the photo,” Lee said. “Today, although the weather is also good, Hong Kong’s streets have changed…”

“Four months Hong Kong was a safe city – transport was convenient, we could stay out late for dinner, for food with our children in the weekends,” she added, before she was stopped by pro-democracy lawmakers.

Mimi Lee MTR
Mimi Lee. Photo: LegCo Screenshot.

Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said such a presentation would only make the public angrier: “You are not giving unbiased statements. Why didn’t you talk about how over-violent the police were in the past few months, using lethal force against young people?” he said.

But pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho said the background given by Lee was appropriate and democrats should be more patient.

“You can’t just allow yourself to speak and not others,” he said.

Lam Cheuk-ting
Lam Cheuk-ting. Photo: LegCo Screenshot.

Sonny Au, undersecretary for security, said the law would be temporary and would be repealed when public safety returned to a reasonable level.

“The law is only for the current situation whereby public safety is being harmed,” he said.

Meanwhile, a legal challenge has been filed against the anti-mask law – it will be heard by the end of the month.

Tam Yiu-chung
Tam Yiu-chung. File Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Tam Yiu-chung, a member of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), said in Beijing that he was confident the government will win the judicial review.

He said he has not heard of any plan for Beijing to interpret the Basic Law over the Emergency Regulations Ordinance in order to ensure the government wins the case.

“I don’t see any need for the NPCSC to do this,” he said.

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Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.