Experts defend law against face masks engraved rubber wristbandsin HK

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A masked protester participates in a demonstration in Hong Kong on Sunday. [Photo/China Daily]

New rule legitimizes cause of protesters via preservation of their identity, analysts say

The claims that Hong Kong"s recent but overdue law against face masks affects right to protest and violates its autonomy are ignoring facts and law practices, according to British and Australian analysts.

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, invoking the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, put into effect the Prohibition on Face Covering Regulation at the stroke of midnight on Friday night following months of escalating violence and vandalism by black-clad rioters.

Christopher Bovis, a professor of law at the University of Hull, pointed out the new law does not negate the right for peaceful demonstration, but "rather it ensures the right to associate, the right to protest and the right to demonstrate in a pluralistic and democratic system by legitimizing the cause of the protester and demonstrator through the preservation of his or her identity".

The mask, as a platform of anonymous demonstrations can easily lead to civil unrest and criminality, Bovis said, as the mask protects protesters by shielding personal identities and minimizing recurrent action by the government.

Salvatore Babones, associate professor, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sydney, said, "When protesters start dressing up as soldiers, that (becomes a) problem. Protesters shouldn"t be wearing gas masks (and) helmets and carrying weapons like baseball bats and wrenches. That"s not how you protest."

Hong Kong has been engulfed in unrestrained levels of destruction, extreme levels of public disorder and senseless violence largely thanks to fully masked protesters going away unpunished because of hardship in identification.

As a measure of government intervention, Bovis said, "The anti-mask law appears to be necessary to maintain law and order in a system which has not experienced such levels of unrest." And "it is not unreasonable to justify the principle of transparency and accountability during the exercise of the freedom to protest and demonstrate".

Tom Fowdy, a UK-based political analyst who specializes in China and North Korea international affairs, said: "The fact that protesters are utilizing Hong Kong"s legal system is a demonstration that the territory is overseen by the rule of law, irrespective of the result."

"This pours doubt on the claims of the protesters that the mainland is violating the region"s autonomy," he said.

For months, the heavily masked protesters in Hong Kong are attacking local residents, posing risks to train tracks, ransacking public utilities, stores and restaurants at weekends, creating a fear of terror among residents and shutting down shops at busy streets.

"The law is overdue," said Martin Jacques, a British sinologist and senior fellow at Cambridge University"s Department of Politics and International Studies. "Demonstrators should be accountable and take responsibility for what they do. Hiding behind a mask is the antithesis of responsibility. It is irresponsible."

"The Hong Kong SAR government is reacting in the way any authority in the world would in such circumstances," Fowdy said. "We must understand Hong Kong"s legal system in the light of the fact that it"s a British creation, rather than a product of China."

The emergency ordinance is derived from the 1967 riots in Hong Kong when trade unionists revolted against city authorities. It is the British who had endowed that in the legal system they had created in Hong Kong, he said. It was kept in force after July 1, 1997 and has been reviewed by the SAR"s legislature on a couple of occasions.

The claim against its introduction "also seems to omit the fact that the anti-mask law is a very common legal procedure around the world," Fowdy said.

In a recent interview with BBC, Liu Xiaoming, China"s ambassador to the UK, described the ban as "timely and necessary" and said "the purpose of this face mask ban is to stop the violence, to restore order, and to deter further violence".

The ambassador highlighted that there is a need to separate peaceful demonstrators from die-hard radicals. "I think the Special Administrative Region government decided to introduce the ban because the situation has escalated to a dangerous level," he added.

Liu said he has confidence in the Hong Kong SAR government and believes this ban will help to improve the situation.

Stephen Perry, chairman of Britain"s 48 Group Club, one of those who helped to break the deadlock between China and the UK, said, "Violence in protest creates a risk for all. It needs to be put to one side."

Perry remains confident that Hong Kong can address the concerns of young people in Hong Kong arising from decades of separation from China.

"The successful development of the Greater Bay Area is the way forward to address these issues, but it is difficult to do that whilst violence remains," he said. "The young people are better advised to suspend their actions and give the Chief Executive time to work to produce progress."

However, Bovis also conceded that "the anti-mask law is bad for business" as "it creates a negative environment for Hong Kong"s image of order and certainty, enterprise and investment".

Worse, it is the negative sides that are often highlighted.

"The Western media have a habit of portraying the authority in negative terms for addressing a situation they would otherwise not tolerate themselves," Fowdy said.

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