Pro-democracy lawmakers are seeking to raise HK$3.85 million for legal services to challenge the government’s emergency anti-mask law.

Earlier this month, the government used the 1922 Emergency Regulations Ordinance (ERO) – a colonial-era law last used to handle the 1967 leftist riots – to enact an anti-mask law in an attempt to curb ongoing protests.

The ERO gives Hong Kong’s chief executive unlimited power to enact any law. All 24 pro-democracy lawmakers have filed a judicial review against the ERO and a hearing was scheduled for Thursday.

Photo: Liona Li/Supplied.

The lawmakers said they need HK$5 million to obtain legal advice from Queen’s Counsel Dinah Rose, a British human rights barrister. HK$1.5 million of the funds will be provided by the lawmakers themselves. Including a service charge for the crowdfunding platform, they will need to raise HK$3.85 million.

“This case is a battle between the rule of law and authoritarianism,” legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok said on Wednesday. “I hope Hong Kong people will support our legal action and understand that this action is very important to Hong Kong’s constitutional system.”

Kwok said the costs were high because the case is expected to go to the Court of Appeal or even the Court of Final Appeal.

Mass demonstrations and unrest in Hong Kong – first sparked by the now withdrawn extradition bill – have continued for more than 21 weeks. They have evolved into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police action, calls for democracy, and anger over Beijing’s encroachment.

Photo: Studio Incendo.

Pro-democracy convener Tanya Chan argued that the ERO may have violated the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de facto constitution, and the Bill of Rights Ordinance.

“It is so clear that the legislature is the only institution to make laws in Hong Kong. However, because of this incident, because of this Emergency Regulations Ordinance, we can see that the executive arm [made] their own law [to] apply to Hong Kong people,” she said.

The funds raised will go to Ho Tse Wai & Partners, the solicitors representing the lawmakers. The lawmakers will be represented by senior counsels Gladys Li and Johannes Chan.

Any excess amount will be shared equally by the Justice Defend Fund and the Humanitarian Relief Fund – both helping pro-democracy activists.

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 allows police officers to check the identity of masked individuals and ask them to remove their masks.

File photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

The judicial review hearing on Thursday will be heard by judges Godfrey Lam and Anderson Chow. Kwok said it is rare for two judges to hear a judicial review case at the Court of First Instance, instead of the just one judge.

“It means that the court will issue a judgment as soon as possible over the legal basis [of the ERO],” he said.

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Kris Cheng

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.