Authorities in Hong Kong have resorted to using old, authoritarian laws to try and suppress a pro-democracy movement. It has sparked more furious protests.
Two people were charged on Monday under a new law announced last week banning face masks. They could face a year in jail. Around 100 supporters filled the courtroom to support them, wearing face masks.
Mass protests last weekend saw tens of thousands of protesters wearing masks in protest at the law.
They marched despite heavy rain, the suspension of Metro services, and police attacks.
One protester, technician Kenneth, wore a mask to “spite” the government.
“It is not a crime to wear a mask, it is my freedom,” he said. “You can’t turn it into a crime just by a click of your fingers.”
The mask ban was announced after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam invoked Emergency Regulations Ordinance that hasn’t been used for over half a century. It is part of a bigger attempt to repress the movement.
Hong Kong’s education bureau has ordered schools to hand over details of students who take part in class boycotts and protests, or wear masks.
It follows strikes and sit-ins at schools by students and workers after police shot an 18 year old student in the chest during protests on 1 October.
Police relaxed their guidelines on the use of lethal force the day before they shot the student. The student is still in hospital—and has been charged with rioting and assaulting a police officer. Cops shot a 14 year old student last Friday. He is in a critical condition.
Protesters in Hong Kong have now taken to the streets for 17 consecutive weekends.
The revolt began over a proposed law that would have allowed extraditions of suspects to mainland China.
It has grown into a much bigger movement calling for more democracy and other changes.
The movement’s five demands include an investigation into police violence and the unconditional release of all arrested protesters.
Some have now added a sixth demand—that the police force be disbanded.
The Emergency Regulations Ordinance was initially rushed through in 1922, when Hong Kong was under British rule, to attack
powerful strikes by seafarers.
It allows the government to take drastic measures including arrests, detentions, deportations and censorship.
Some fear that Lam could announce a curfew or delay district council elections scheduled for next month.
Ip Kwok-him, a member of Hong Kong’s ruling executive council, said this week that the council could introduce internet controls to try and quell protests.
“We would not rule out a ban on the internet,” he said.
One protester warned, “If Carrie Lam is allowed to get away with the mask ban, she will feel safe to use the ordinance for whatever she wants.”
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