Hong Kong students don surgical face masks in school to protest against mask ban

Hong Kong's anti-mask law, which came into effect early Saturday (Oct 5), is applicable in schools and universities. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG - Hong Kong students from several secondary schools donned face masks as they returned to class on Tuesday (Oct 8), the first school day after an anti-mask law came into effect over the weekend.

The students, approached by local media outside their schools, said they were doing so to voice their disagreement with the mask ban, to express solidarity with a fellow student who was shot and injured by police during protest, and to show support for the five demands of the movement, media outlet HK01 reported.

They were also not worried about a move by the Education Bureau to ask schools to report how many of their students wear face masks to schools. The bureau said last Friday after the mask ban was announced that schools are not places for expressing political demands.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam last Friday invoked the emergency powers for the first time in more than 50 years to outlaw face masks during public assemblies, which protesters have used to shield their identities.

The anti-mask law, which came into effect early Saturday, is also applicable in schools and universities.

At Cheung Chuk Shan College in North Point, almost 150 students and alumni wore face masks to school on Tuesday, after a three-day long weekend, broadcaster RTHK reported.

A secondary five student from Tsuen Wan Public Ho Chuen Yiu Memorial College told HK01 that the Education Bureau's move was "white terror", a phrase used to describe acts that create a climate of fear.

A secondary four student from the same school, who was wearing a mask, said the act was in support of the five demands by protesters as well as a fellow student who was shot by police earlier this month.

The college's student, 18-year-old Tsang Chi Kin, was shot by police last Tuesday during a day of violent protests. Police said he was shot in the shoulder, but various media reports say he was shot in the chest.

The principal of Sheng Kung Hui Tang Shiu Kin Secondary School, Mr Tai Tak Ching, told a Commercial Radio Hong Kong programme that the anti-mask law should not be applicable inside schools, as schools are not places regulated under the Public Order Ordinance.

He also said that his school would not be reporting the number of mask-donning students to the Education Bureau.

On Tuesday, Mr Tai urged his students to pay attention to safety and stay away from dangerous situations, according to HK01. He also told his students that any decisions they make should not be based on hatred.

The Education Bureau had said that its request was to "offer schools further support in relation to any protests such as class boycotts", RTHK reported. The bureau added that the names of students wearing masks in school would not be recorded.

Academics, however, said the bureau's move could backfire.

"Many parents of the students in Hong Kong actually dislike the measure and they're going to do whatever they can to protest against it. So you will again put the government in a very bad situation," Chinese University professor Wilson Wong told RTHK.

Hong Kong is now in its 18th week of unrest after what began as protests against a contentious extradition Bill - now withdrawn - evolved into anti-government protests with five demands.

Besides the demand to withdraw the Bill, the other demands are: an independent judge-led probe into alleged police brutality, amnesty for all those arrested in the protests, removal of the label "riot" from violent incidents, and universal suffrage.

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