Secretary for Security Chris Tang told lawmakers on Wednesday that it was necessary to retain the mask ban introduced during the extradition bill protests of 2019, as national security concerns remain in the city.

Chris Tang
Secretary for Security Chris Tang. File Photo: RTHK, via video screenshot.

Hong Kong was one of the world’s last regions to scrap its Covid-19 mask mandate, with the requirement lifted on March 1. However, questions were raised over whether citizens would be arrested for wearing face coverings at lawful rallies, as Hong Kong’s 2019-era anti-mask law remains in place.

The sole self-proclaimed non-pro-establishment lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen asked security chief Chris Tang at the Legislative Council if the authorities would consider reviewing the ban. “After all, the current social circumstances are very different compared to 2019,” Tik said.

Tik also suggested the security bureau could clarify under what circumstances wearing masks would be allowed at an assembly, and consider exempting participants from the ban if the assembly was approved by the police.

Tang, however, said the government has to prepare for the worst and “nip national security crimes in the bud.”

Tik Chi-yuen
Lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen he meets the press on February 22, 2023 after the 2023 Budget address. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The secretary for security raised several examples of national security risks seen in the past year, including allegedly seditious comments posted online and ammunition found inside a residential apartment last year.

He said the Department of Justice will consider the defence put forward by mask ban offenders before pressing any charges. A brief explanation on the ban was also available on security bureau’s website, Tang added.

Nevertheless, he said there was no reasonable defence for wearing a gas mask or a “V for Vendetta” mask at assemblies, in reference to a cartoon mask popular with protesters.

Tang told the lawmaker that the ban would be reviewed when it was appropriate.

november 5 guy fawkes mask v vendetta Tsim sha tsui
Photo: United Social Press.

A pro-Beijing lawmaker, Joephy Chan, later criticised another lawmaker for suggesting a review of the ban: “[C]alling for relaxations of the mask ban is to abet chaos.” She did not specify who she was referring to.

Chan suggested the government could raise the penalty of the mask ban. Under the current anti-mask law, offenders risk a year in jail and a fine of HK$25,000.

The mask ban was put in place by then-chief executive Carrie Lam in October 2019 using powers prescribed by the Emergency Regulations Ordinance. The prohibition barred the use of face coverings “likely to prevent identification” at lawful rallies, or illegal assemblies.

Chief Executive John Lee said three weeks ago that the mask mandate and mask ban were two separate matters, and the government will review the mask ban “in due course.”

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Lea Mok

Lea Mok is a multimedia reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously contributed to StandNews, The Initium, MingPao and others. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.