Coronavirus News Asia

Mask ban at unauthorized protests ruled legal

Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s decision to invoke the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to implement a ban on face masks at protests did not breach the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday. 

The Court of Appeal also ruled that the mask ban at protests that have been declared unlawful by the police is in accordance with the city’s constitution. 

However, it upheld a lower court’s ruling that a face mask ban the government imposed at authorized protests and rallies last year was unconstitutional, RTHK reported.

The court also ruled that new powers granted to the police to stop people and order them to take off their masks, and remove masks if they refuse to comply, are unconstitutional.

Leung Kwok-hung, a former legislator known as “Long Hair,” said he was disappointed by the latest court ruling. He said the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, passed in 1922, was outdated and vague and granted too much power to the chief executive and infringed on people’s freedom. He said he would consider filing an appeal to the Final Court of Appeal, pending a legal aid application. 

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a Hong Kong senior counsel and an Executive Council member, said the latest ruling showed that chief executive’s move to invoke the emergency law to ban masks was “in general” constitutional. Tong said the current public order ordinance and police general orders had granted the police the power to order people to take off their masks during their operations.

The mask ban came into effect on October 4, 2019, as hundreds of protesters rallied to oppose the government’s extradition bill amendment, which was proposed in June 2019. Offenders risked a fine of HK$25,000 (US$3,224) or a year in prison.

Pro-democracy lawmakers took the issue to court. On November 18, the High Court ruled that the mask ban was excessive and unconstitutional because the restrictions it imposed on people’s fundamental rights were excessive.

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