Saturday, Oct. 5 saw new developments in the now four months of civil unrest in Hong Kong. Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, invoked the colonial-era Emergency Powers Ordinance to ban identity-concealing face masks worn at any public gathering
. The city’s pro-democracy protesters have already responded by grinding Hong Kong to a screeching halt.
The ban on face masks comes after increasingly violent and disruptive protests, which Lam hopes to quell by deterring protesters with a punishment of up to one year of imprisonment for wearing face coverings. Without face masks, protesters would be easier to identify and detain by riot police and law enforcement. But the masks serve a second purpose – not only do they protect the identity and privacy of the protestors, they also protect the protestors from noxious tear gas and non-lethal rounds shot at them by police. The ban means that if a police officer isn’t able to detain protestors through brutalization, they can use camera footage to identify and arrest them.
To pass this ban, Lam relied on a 1922 law (while Hong Kong was still under British rule) which grants the Chief Executive the ability to “make any regulations whatsoever which [they] may consider desirable in the public interest.” Using such an archaic piece of Hong Kong’s imperialized past to even further restrict the freedoms of Hong Kong citizens set the city ablaze with anti-government violence. While Lam’s initial intentions to protect public safety were straight forward, the widespread backlash indicates how out of touch she is with protecting the fundamental rights of Hong Kong’s citizens.
The protesters’ anger towards the Hong Kong government and the police who oppress them has reached the tipping point. The pro-democracy movement is very clearly beyond the fear of arrest. While Lam and other government officials were in Beijing on Oct. 1 celebrating the 70th anniversary of China’s authoritarian government, tens of thousands of protesters took the anger to the city streets in one of the most violent protests yet. During a fight with a riot officer, a teenager was shot point-blank in the chest, with the bullet missing his heart by only a few centimeters. The 18-year-old has undergone surgery and is still in critical condition, according to the South China Morning Post. This assault helped to stoke the increased violence leading up to the ban. After the ban, a weekend of protest saw more violence and more frustration. Almost every protester had a mask on, and some handed out free ones to those who didn’t.
Lam’s tightening chokehold on the rights of Hong Kong’s citizens will not deescalate violence in her once docile city. The movement has stayed consistent in their goals for four months – they need their basic democratic rights restored. Yet Lam ignored them and used her power to usurp Hong Kong legislature to restrict Hong Kongers democratic rights even further. Lam must look to removing the ban and to start meeting the demands of protesters
, before this crisis becomes a revolution. The united people of Hong Kong have made it clear to Lam and to the world that they will never back down, even in the face of increasing totalitarian opposition.
This bloody tug-of-war will end in only one way.