Hong Kong’s new chief justice says people attending court should be entitled to choose what they wear after a district judge on Monday ordered persons wearing yellow facemasks to leave his courtroom.

During the trial of four defendants charged with rioting and assault during a protest in Amoy Plaza in September 2019, District Judge Ernest Lim ordered a lawyer and two family members to change to different-coloured facemasks or leave.

yellow facemasks FDNOL
Photo: via Carousel.

The lawyer followed the judge’s orders while the two others refused, according to Apple Daily. Yellow facemasks are a widely-used symbol of support for the city’s 2019 pro-democracy protests.

In September 2019, crowds of pro-Beijing supporters clashed with pro-democracy demonstrators in Kowloon’s Amoy Plaza after the pro-Beijing group vandalised the mall’s “Lennon Walls.” Police have been criticised for arresting black-clad individuals but not those toting Chinese flags.

‘Free society’

Replying to a question at a press conference later Monday on whether the district judge’s move politicised the law and threatened to erode confidence in the judiciary, the new chief justice said Hong Kong remains a free city.

“Hong Kong is a free society,” Chief Justice Andrew Cheung said. “There should be absolutely nothing wrong… with wearing clothes or facemasks of any colour.”

Andrew Cheung
Andrew Cheung. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

Cheung, however, declined to comment on the specific incident. “I do not think it appropriate for me to comment on an ongoing case,” adding that judges have the power to give certain instructions in the courtroom in order to secure fair and just proceedings.

There are growing concerns of increased political pressure on the city’s courts and the suppression of political dissent under the national security law. When asked to comment on the separation of powers doctrine on Monday, Cheung declined, saying it was “too political.”

A local supplier of yellow facemasks suspended its operations last November after a pro-Beijing lawmaker accused the company of violating the security law.

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.