In early October, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to implement an anti-mask law, namely the Prohibition on Face Covering Regulation, in order to stop the ongoing street violence triggered by the anti-Extradiction Bill movement that year.
After publishing the law on Oct 4, Hong Kong witnessed a significantly decreasing number of riots. It proves that the regulation has succeeded in exerting a binding on the radical behavior of protestors to a certain extent. However, there still remain some doubts on the legitimacy and viability of the anti-mask law.
First, some people misinterpret it as a prohibiting masking on any occasion, even equal to wearing masks like "rioters". Second, it is difficult for the law to restrict most of the rioters with other crimes when participating in unlawful assembly. Third, some people are afraid that the law might be converted into another Extradition Bill, which has already caused huge riots.
However, Hong Kong has already entered a de-facto state of crisis or even emergency, thus it is entirely reasonable, as well as lawful, for the government to invoke the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to make relevant regulations. In the past four months, frankly speaking, the Hong Kong authorities totally failed to curb violent clashes. Undoubtedly, the introduction of law at present shows the government's commitment to restore social order.
Judging from the content of the law, wearing a mask is not necessarily the sign of "rioters". Strictly, it only prohibits people using masked items in "specific assembly" and also authorizes police officers' removal of masked items in public. Moreover, the law not only makes sense by punishing people who have violated the law, but also by deterring the majority who are encouraged to participate in the assembly and reducing the expectation of people escaping legal punishment by wearing masks.
In the face of Hong Kong, which is now in a de-facto state of crisis as argued above, "rioters" are still proliferating violence in the name of "freedom" and "liberation". Unless the government takes special measures to rebuild social order, this metropolis would be in a wrong way. As the first line of anti-violence, the police, now with low morale, need more processing capacity and methods. The introduction of the anti-mask law has largely reflected the government's determination to further empower the police team institutionally.
At the same time, the general public, who are eager to end the violence, should make efforts by using social media, for example, to spread the pressure of the police force in resisting the protestors' illegally violent behavior, and the results achieved to the public. It will not only help enforce the anti-mask law, but also contribute to the re-establishment of the Hong Kong government's legitimacy.
Hao Shinan is an associate professor at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Shanghai International Studies University. Wang Min is a graduate student at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Shanghai International Studies University.