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Wednesday, Oct 28, 2020

At least 77 anti-mask law arrests amid Hong Kong’s ‘escalating vandalism’

Police used 367 rounds of tear gas, 106 rubber bullets, 15 beanbag rounds and 30 sponge bullets in clashes over long weekend.
At least 77 people have been arrested over Hong Kong’s newly imposed anti-mask law since it came into force three days ago, with police saying the long weekend of unrest triggered by the legislation was marked by a “sharp escalation in vandalism and property destruction”.

They were among 241 suspects, aged between 12 and 54, arrested during protests, amid a wider anti-government movement that has rocked the city for four months.

Acting chief superintendent Kelvin Kong Wing-cheung said police used 367 rounds of tear gas, 106 rubber bullets, 15 beanbag rounds and 30 sponge bullets in clashes from Friday to Monday. The force also recorded 213 cases of vandalism of shops, MTR facilities, public properties and buildings, as well as 80 reports of damage to traffic lights.

Among those arrested over the long weekend was a pregnant woman, 19, detained over unlawful assembly and criminal damage at Siu Hong MTR station in Tuen Mun on Monday night. She was still being held for questioning and had not been charged.

The latest arrests brought the total number of suspects caught since the political crisis erupted in June to 2,363. Among them, at least 408 have been charged.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor invoked the colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance last Friday to enact the mask ban at illegal or authorised rallies, in a bid to curb the social unrest sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.

A violation of the anti-mask law can lead to a maximum fine of HK$25,000 (US$3,200), and one year in prison. Under the regulation, an officer may stop and require any person in public to remove his or her mask – the maximum penalty for failure to comply with this demand is a fine of HK$10,000 (US$1,300) and six months in jail.

Of the 77 people arrested over the mask ban, 74 were held for “using facial covering at an unlawful assembly”, and three for “failing to comply with requirement to remove facial covering in a public place”.

Among the 77, 16 of them were charged – 14 on Tuesday and two on Monday. Those charged on Tuesday also faced a second joint count of rioting with 12 other defendants. The pair in court on Monday were also charged with unlawful assembly.

At a press conference on Tuesday, police were bombarded with questions on their enforcement of the anti-mask law, after reports emerged of officers forcibly removing a journalist’s mask on Sunday following the firing of tear gas.

The anti-mask law carries a list of exemptions, such as for health, religious, professional or employment reasons.

At a press conference on Tuesday, police were bombarded with questions on their enforcement of the anti-mask law, after reports emerged of officers forcibly removing a journalist’s mask on Sunday following the firing of tear gas.

The anti-mask law carries a list of exemptions, such as for health, religious, professional or employment reasons.

Senior Superintendent Ng Cheuk-hang said the law was only enacted three days ago, and officers needed more time to understand its operation, but he did not apologise to the journalist involved or make any pledge that similar incidents would not happen again.

“In an ideal world, there would be a training day for officers, but there is no time. We have also sent guidelines to frontline officers explaining the operation,” Ng said.

He added that the law did not specify journalists would be exempted under the work-related category, contradicting comments by Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu on Friday, who said reporters in the field would be protected.

Meanwhile, police also announced a new multi-platform reporting hotline to deal with an “escalating level of violence”.
Channels available include phone calls, WeChat and Line messaging, but not on WhatsApp after the social media company suspended the force’s account, accusing it of violating service terms last month, and saying its platform was intended for private use and not bulk messaging.

“The channel will be dedicated solely for the reporting of crimes related to protest violence. We will not share any information received with third parties, and will destroy these after a certain period of time,” Senior Superintendent Chan Chi-yung of the force’s information systems wing said.
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