Hong Kong face mask manufacturer Yellowfactory has suspended its business operations after pro-Beijing lawmakers and newspapers said one of their designs violated the national security law.

The company announced on Facebook that their retail and online shops will be closed from Wednesday onwards.

yellow factory face masks
Photo: Yellow Factory, via Facebook.

“Yellowfactory does not intend to violate the national security law. With consideration of our staff and customers, we will make internal adjustments. From November 18 onward, the Causeway Bay and Mong Kok retail shops will suspend business temporarily,” the post read.

In a report published on Monday, state-owned newspapers Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po slammed the manufacturer for “inciting hatred and tearing society apart,” adding a legal scholar’s comments that its pro-protest designs may be in violation of the Beijing-imposed law, as well as sedition legislation.

Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation Vice-chair Willy Fu told the newspapers that the facemasks were political publicity, adding that both the shop owner – and salesperson – may be liable for secession and subversion: “The facemasks’ packaging is printed with many political messages, promoting the wrongful idea of ‘Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times’ with tricks. They are specifically labelled: ‘I’d rather die for speaking out, than live and be silent’ which provokes radical violent acts and thoughts such as Hong Kong independence and self-determination,” Fu said.

He added that Yellowfactory may contravene the Trade Descriptions Ordinance for failing to comply with requirements for advertisements.

‘Yellow economy’

Having set up its production line in March after the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, Yellowfactory has been selling locally manufactured facemasks online since April. It opened two retail stores in Mong Kok’s Langham Place and Causeway Bay in October.

yellow factory face masks
Photo: Yellow Factory, via Facebook.

One of its most popular design is printed with “F.D.N.O.L.” – an abbreviation of the protest slogan “Five demands, not one less” – and comes in yellow, black and white. The paper box containing the masks is printed with paintings of black-bloc protesters wearing respirators. Another design for students to wear on school campuses is only printed with the shop’s initials “YF.”

In its Facebook page description, Yellowfactory wrote that the facemasks are: “Made in Hong Kong. Serve for Hong Kong” and the page cover photo also stated that they are supportive of protesters.

The retail shops’ interior is decorated with protest icons such as a pro-democracy Lennon Wall message board.

DAB lawmaker Elizabeth Quat told Wen Wei Po that slogans such as “Restore Hong Kong to health, the epidemic fight of our times” are “dog whistles” and have a negative impact to youngsters. “The political slogans are full of implicit meanings. It is an attempt to heroise rioters, glorify violence and blatantly challenge the bottom line of Hong Kong national security law.”

The now-resigned Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan refuted Quat’s claim on Facebook and cited pro-Beijing lawmaker Paul Tse’s banner which also parodied the protest slogan.

yellow factory face masks
Photo: Yellow Factory, via Facebook.

Actor Michael Wong is also under fire, Apple Daily reported, after he posted a photo of himself wearing the controversial face mask. The Instagram post of him having lunch with his wife was swarmed by pro-government commenters, slamming the actor, who often plays the role of police officers in movies and TV shows.

Wong later deleted the photo.

Update 19/11: When asked by HKFP if the mask store had acted illegally, the Security Bureau did not answer directly and refused to comment on individual cases: “On whether an organisation is guilty of the National Security Law, the prosecution has the burden of proof at the court.”

“Whether the defendant is guilty or not would depend on relevant evidence, and ultimately be determined by the court having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case,” they added. The Bureau did not clarify as to whether it was legal to wear a yellow mask.

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Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.