Protesters who fully or partially cover their face with masks at rallies and marches, both lawful and unlawful, could face a year in prison or a fine of HK$25,000 ($3,100), according to the new law which was announced following a special meeting of city leader Carrie Lam’s Executive Council.
The legislation does not only ban masks but also “any other article of any kind (including paint) that covers all or part of a person’s face.”
Those who refuse to remove a mask after being told to do so by police could also be sentenced to six months in jail and fined HK$10,000 ($1,275).
Exemptions will be made for those wearing masks at protests for their own safety as part of their paid work, or for those with religious or medical reasons for covering their face.
The law goes into effect at midnight. You can read the text below.
— Lok. (@sumlokkei) October 4, 2019
At a press conference, Lam declared that the anti-mask law was “necessary” for quelling pro-democracy, anti-government protests that have rocked Hong Kong for more than four months and have grown increasingly chaotic with demonstrations on China’s National Day taking a particularly tumultuous turn as a young protester was shot by police.
In order to bypass parliament and enact the law, Lam’s administration was forced to invoke the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, a piece of colonial-era legislation that was put in the books in 1922 and last used in 1967 during leftist riots.
Despite the name of the ordinance, Lam has insisted that the city is not under a state of emergency.
Even before the law was announced, Hong Kong’s education bureau sent out a letter to students warning them that wearing face masks would not be allowed inside or outside of school.
As Carrie Lam announced the face mask ban, the education bureau sent a letter to parents saying that students would not be allowed to wear face masks inside or outside school: "We want to use this opportunity to emphasize that schools are not places to express political demands."
— Tiffany May (@nytmay) October 4, 2019
Meanwhile, growing numbers of people have taken to the street to protest the new law — many of them wearing masks.
An emergency rally and march is beginning in Chater Garden right now to voice citizens’ opposition to the invocation of emergency powers to ban the wearing of masks at protests. It started very small but has been growing quickly in size and volume. #StandwithHK pic.twitter.com/c8CpCbmnxb
— Ryan Ho Kilpatrick 何松濤 (@rhokilpatrick) October 4, 2019
everybody is fucking pissed. good job, carrie lam. pic.twitter.com/dGU5SBQnoz
— lokman tsui (@lokmantsui) October 4, 2019
— Chris B (@bbchris) October 4, 2019
— Pak Yiu (@pakwayne) October 4, 2019
It remains to be seen how the public will react to the mask ban once it officially goes into effect on Saturday, but the law seems certain to be extremely unpopular. It was, of course, an extremely unpopular proposed law that sparked this whole mess earlier this year.