HONG KONG (XINHUA, REUTERS) - Hong Kong's Secretary for Justice stressed on Sunday (Oct 13) that the anti-mask regulation will help reduce acts of violence and in devising the new regulation the government has given due consideration to human rights guarantees.
In a blog article published on the website of the Hong Kong government's Department of Justice, Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng said that in devising the Prohibition on Face Covering Regulation, the government has given due consideration to the human rights guarantees in the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, including the rights on the freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and privacy.
"However, these rights are not absolute, and may be subject to restrictions that satisfy the proportionality test including whether a reasonable balance has been struck between the societal benefits of the encroachment and the inroads made into the constitutionally protected rights of the individual," she pointed out.
The new measure would not deprive the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as people are still free to participate in lawful and peaceful public order events without face covering.
If a member of the public in a public place is asked by police officers to remove the face covering to verify his identity, he may wear it again after the verification process is completed, said Ms Cheng.
"Interference with a person's rights is minimal, and in any event proportionate to the legitimate aim of protecting public safety and public order," she said.
Other than the specified circumstances set out in the new regulation, people are generally free to wear face masks and the impact on their daily lives is limited, she added.
The Secretary for Justice also clarified that in enacting the anti-mask regulation, there is no issue of the Legislative Council being circumvented.
"The new regulation, which is a piece of subsidiary legislation, is made pursuant to the Emergency Regulations Ordinance and has to be laid on the table of the Legislative Council which may by resolution amend the regulation," she said.
Ms Cheng pointed out that prohibiting people from using face covering would facilitate police investigation and administration of justice. It would also deter people from acting in an unlawful manner on the basis that they may act with impunity by concealing their identity.
"The protests and confrontations have continued for almost four months. We hope that the new measure could help curb the spread of violence and restore social order," Ms Cheng said. "We also urge the understanding and support of the public in our work."
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Oct 4 invoked an emergency law - the Emergency Regulations Ordinance - to ban face masks during protests, which she said would bring back "peace and order" to the city. The new law came into effect on Oct 5.
The ban carries a maximum one-year jail term, but thousands, including school children and office workers, have defied the ban since it came into effect.