Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced an emergency law to ban face masks during a news conference on Friday (Oct 4), in a dramatic move intended to quell escalating violence in the city. The anti-mask law takes effect one minute after midnight at 00.01 or Saturday (Oct 5), under an emergency law that allow authorities to “make any regulations whatsoever” in the public interest.

“We believe that the law will create a deterrent effect against masked violent protesters and rioters, and will assist the police in its law enforcement,” Mrs. Lam said.

Various sectors across society are hoping that the city can regain calm, she adds, saying the government’s job is to help police.

Lam stated that in the last four months, there were almost 400 protests with 1,100 injuries reported, of which nearly 300 were police officers.

Lam says the goal of the law is to stop violence and restore order and to rein in the increasingly violent civil unrest gripping the city. The law is aimed at those who resort to violence and cover their faces to do so, but there are exemptions for people who genuinely need to be masked, she adds.

“We can’t allow the escalation of violence and have been exploring possible laws to curb violence. The most serious “escalation of violence” took place between September 29 and October 1 when hundreds were arrested and thousands of Molotov cocktails were thrown at police officers with one rioter subdued by lethal force, now recovering in hospital.

Other reasons for the introduction of the new law include the increase in student arrests. Saving the children from violence is the law’s main concern, adds Lam.

Hong Kong Police Get More Power

Protests spread to various districts and grew from arson on the streets and outside metro stations to inside waiting areas, seeing public buildings destroyed, and shops ransacked.

Conflicts have also escalated from shouting matches, to fistfights and scuffles, with attacks on police becoming more violent. Lam says nearly all protesters at illegal assemblies wear masks to evade legal consequences. “We hope the law can create a deterrent effect,” she says.

Police are empowered to remove facial coverings to verify identity. In a public place police will have right to remove the person’s facial covering with non-compliance to be considered an offence.

‘Hong Kong not in a state of emergency’

“The decision is not an easy one, but necessary. I want to stress that the law doesn’t mean Hong Kong is in a state of emergency.

“Protests have become more frequent, rioters have staged organised damage, while residents and companies in Hong Kong are worried, and people are asking if Hong Kong can restore order,” she says.

Restrictions will not undermine the essence of the SAR’s long-enshrined and cherished freedom of speech.

The law and its maintenance are essential across society, and the right of all its members. Having a functioning society means that the executive must be empowered to enforce the law, protecting all citizens, businesses and institutions alike. Foreigners too must be afforded protection by the law of Hong Kong, in particular those who have invested in its economy and society, and should not fear wanton destruction of their livelihood. In so doing, Hong Kong remains competitive and prosperous.

Meanwhile, hundreds of masked protesters, mostly office workers, rallied in the city’s commercial district to signal their rejection of the new regulation.