Chaos in Hong Kong prompts call for anti-mask law, but critics say ban won't cool unrest

Masked protesters walk to Kowloon station to take part in a protest event in Hong Kong on Sept 22, 2019.
Masked protesters walk to Kowloon station to take part in a protest event in Hong Kong on Sept 22, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG - The escalation of violence in Hong Kong has prompted pro-government politicians to call for an anti-mask legislation. But those who oppose it have expressed doubt that such a ban would do much to stop the chaos that is now into its fourth month.

Ms Maria Tam, deputy director of the National People's Congress Standing Committee Basic Law Committee from Hong Kong, said on Tuesday (Sept 24) that people with masks are likely to feel protected and that they could evade legal liability for the things they do, Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday.

Noting that such legislation already exists in many countries and regions, Ms Tam said that by banning the masks, a message would be sent to the public that those who break the law can be identified and arrested.

Ms Starry Lee, chairman of the pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, pointed out that as far as the current situation is concerned, the wearing of masks by protesters has led to the escalation of violence in Hong Kong, making it difficult for law enforcement.

Ms Lee said that anti-mask legislation is necessary and the government of the Hong Kong should be prepared for it, Xinhua reported.

Other politicians, however, were not convinced that such a legislation would be able to cool the current crisis. Besides, there are many issues to consider, such as how such as ban should be enforced.

"You need to consider if the prohibition applies to illegal assemblies or applies to lawful assemblies," Hong Kong executive councillor Ronny Tong told broadcaster RTHK in an interview.

"If it applies to lawful assembly, and if there are tens of thousands of people attending the lawful assembly and wearing masks, do you arrest them all?" he said.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng said on Wednesday that her department has carried out studies on the proposal to ban protesters from wearing masks, RTHK reported.

But she added that it is up to other government departments to consider if the proposal can be put to the Legislative Council.