Pro-democracy politicians file legal challenge against Hong Kong government

5 October 2019, 18:21

The government brought in a ban on face masks at protests on Friday
The government brought in a ban on face masks at protests on Friday. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

A group of 24 legislators have filed an appeal bid to block the government's anti-mask law.

Pro-democracy politicians in Hong Kong have filed a legal challenge against the government's use of a "colonial-era" emergency law that criminalises the wearing of face masks at protests.

The government has defended their decision, saying the masks make it tough for police to identify radical protesters.

Two activists failed to obtain a court injunction on Friday against the ban on face coverings.

The mask ban that came into effect at midnight on Friday triggered an overnight rash of widespread violence and destruction in the city, including the starting of fires and attacks on an off-duty police officer who fired a live shot in self-defence that injured a 14-year-old protester.

Protests have been ongoing since the ban was brought in on Friday
Protests have been ongoing since the ban was brought in on Friday. Picture: PA

In this second bid, Dennis Kwok said a group of 24 legislators filed a legal appeal to block the anti-mask law on wider constitutional grounds.

He said the city's leader Carrie Lam acted in bad faith by bypassing the Legislative Council, Hong Kong's parliament, in invoking the emergency law.

He said: "This is a Henry the 8th situation. This is basically I say what is law... and I say when that ceases to be law. That's not how our constitution works.

"We say that she doesn't have such powers, that she cannot avoid the Legislative Council."

Ms Lam has said she will seek the council's backing for the law when its session resumes on October 16, and she has not ruled out further measures if the violence continues.

Mr Kwok said the group also asked the court to rule the emergency law, enacted by British colonial rulers in 1922 to quell a seamen's strike and last used in 1967 to crush riots, was incompatible with rights and freedoms under Hong Kong's constitution that was put in place after it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Fellow politician Claudia Mo called the Emergency Ordinance a "weapon of mass destruction" that could pave the way for more draconian regulations.

The court will hear the case on Sunday morning.

Carrie Lam said Hong Kong is "semi-paralysed" by the violence
Carrie Lam said Hong Kong is "semi-paralysed" by the violence. Picture: PA

In a televised address broadcast as protesters again marched in masks on Saturday, a solemn Ms Lam described Hong Kong as "semi-paralysed" and reiterated the mask ban is needed to stop the violence.

She added: "The government needs to take drastic measures to say no to violence, restore peace in society, protect citizens' right to continue their daily lives and freedom, not allowing a small group of rioters to destroy it."