The Hong Kong government has invoked a colonial-era law to ban protesters from wearing face masks and protesters responded by taking to the streets in the Central business district. The only other time the law has been invoked was during the 1967 Hong Kong riots.
Similar laws have been passed in other countries. In 2010 France and Belgium passed broad prohibitions on wearing clothing that covers one’s face except for artistic or ceremonial purposes. Similar rules are in force in Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Egypt, Germany and the Netherlands.
France passed another law earlier this year banning masks in public demonstrations following the “yellow vest” protests.
However, pro-democracy lawmakers said the enactment was like pouring gasoline on a fire, as most of the countries that introduced such a law had democratic governments.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Alan Leong Ka-kit said political problems require political solutions, and the passing of anti-mask laws overseas was controversial because the definition of “reasonable situations for wearing masks” was debatable.
“Ukraine intended to pacify the chaos through such legislation and it provoked a revolution,” he said.
The initial response to the news was hostility. Within hours of the news on Friday, protesters were vowing to defy the law across Hong Kong.
Indeed, several thousand people in suits put on face masks and took to the streets in Central during lunch hour, chanting slogans and walking all the way to Sheng Wan.
At 6 pm, protesters set fire to barricades on Connaught Road, a major thoroughfare on Hong Kong Island. Thousands of people were still on the streets at the time of going to press.
More flash mob protests occurred in various districts, with protesters temporarily blocking roads in Kowloon Tong and setting up makeshift barriers on Waterloo Road at the start of the evening rush hour.
In the northern district of Yuen Long, a police officer opened fire when he was surrounded in his car and attacked by protesters, a gasoline bomb exploding at his feet.