Embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam is expected to discuss emergency regulations on Friday that would allow the government to ban face masks at protests, in an attempt to clamp down on pro-democracy rallies that have rocked the city since June.
Seething public anger against Chinese rule in the semi-autonomous city has underscored increasingly violent confrontations between police officers and demonstrators.
Protesters have used face masks along with yellow helmets, goggles and respirators to protect themselves from tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and water cannon, and avoid identification.
Officials plan to introduce the ban under a colonial-era emergency law that bypasses the city’s legislature, the local newspaper the South China Morning Post reported on Thursday.
Pro-Beijing legislators have been urging Lam to introduce the emergency ordinance since Tuesday, when violent protests in Hong Kong overshadowed the 70th-anniversary celebrations for the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
“If we had the law … then this would have a deterrent effect on some people,” pro-Beijing legislator Elizabeth Quat told reporters on Thursday.
“We are not talking about peaceful protesters. We are talking about people who use illegal violence,” she added.
Nicholas Chan Hiu Fung, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference said the move would allow people to share views in “an organised, proper, legal manner.”
Shot protester charged
Police fired a record 1,400 rounds of tear gas and used water cannon to break up Tuesday’s protests, which flared up in different parts of the city.
An 18-year-old protester was shot in the chest by a police officer after his unit was involved in a skirmish with protesters armed with pipes.
The secondary school student remains in hospital in a stable condition and was on Thursday among a number of people charged with rioting. A couple of hundred people rallied outside court to show their support for the protesters, Al Jazeera’s Sarah Clarke said.
“Police are still under pressure about why they used live bullets, and why they targeted the protester’s chest,” she said.
Pro-democracy legislator Dennis Kwok said introducing an emergency law would signal “the beginning of a slip towards an authoritarian state”.
“The authorities by now should have listened to the Hong Kong people. Their yearning for freedom, liberty and democracy, is not going to go away,” he said.
The protests were ignited by a now-scrapped plan to allow extraditions to the mainland.
But after Beijing and local leaders failed to respond to demonstrators demands the rallies snowballed into a wider movement calling for democratic freedom and police accountability.