Asia Pacific

Curfews and mask ban considered as Hong Kong protests escalate

Bloomberg, Reuters

Hong Kong police groups are urging the city to impose curfews and invoke other powers under a controversial colonial-era emergency law as Chief Executive Carrie Lam struggles to control escalating unrest.

Associations representing front-line officers and inspectors called on the government to take dramatic steps after the city suffered some of its worst violence yet on the National Day holiday Tuesday. Waves of rallies across the former British colony led to widespread clashes between protesters and police, with an officer shooting and wounding a demonstrator for the first time since unrest began almost four months ago.

“In the face of such a massive series of rioting incidents, we cannot work alone without appropriate measures and support from the top level,” Junior Police Officers’ Association chairman Lam Chi-wai said in a statement. “We are only an enforcement agency with limited power under the law.”

The Hong Kong public has become increasingly hostile toward police amid accusations of heavy-handed tactics. Police say they have shown restraint in the face of increased violence.

Local media reported later in the day that Hong Kong’s leaders would hold a special meeting on the issue Friday and would likely an emergency law to ban face masks at rallies.

Hong Kong’s powerful Public Order Ordinance — passed during a wave of leftist riots in 1967 — lets the government establish curfews and close areas from public access. The Emergency Regulations Ordinance of 1922 goes further, allowing the chief executive to make “any regulations whatsoever” to ensure public security, including censorship, snap arrests and property searches and seizures.

While the Hong Kong and Chinese governments haven’t ruled out the use of such emergency powers, they have so far refrained from accessing them.

The measures risk further inflaming public anger over what they see as eroding freedoms and dealing another blow to the city’s battered economy.

The Emergency Regulations Ordinance hasn’t been used in more than half a century. The government has also considered other steps, such as a law banning the wearing of face masks.

The U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which reports to the president and Congress, has warned Lam’s government that the “Emergency Regulations Ordinance or taking steps toward martial law in Hong Kong is the wrong way to resolve the situation.”

The European Union said in a statement it was deeply troubled by the escalation of violence in Hong Kong and that the only way forward was through “restraint, de-escalation and dialogue.”

Thousands of protesters took to the streets on Wednesday to denounce the shooting by police of Tony Tsang, an 18-year-old secondary-school student, which police said was an act of self-defense.

Tsang was shot at point-blank range as he fought a police officer with a metal pipe on Tuesday, when demonstrators hurled gasoline bombs at police who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon.

Footage shows the Tsang swinging the pipe at the officer who fired his gun. He is expected to survive and has been charged with rioting and assaulting an officer, police said.

The incident drew criticism from U.S. lawmakers, who are considering legislation that could establish a high-profile annual review process for Hong Kong’s special trading status. The Hong Kong branch of China’s foreign ministry hit back at the legislators, saying police “were forced to fire at the attackers to save themselves and their colleagues.”

The demonstrations continued into the early hours of Thursday, with some protesters, again, throwing gasoline bombs. More protests are planned over the weekend.

Also, the lawyer for an Indonesian journalist injured when police fired a projectile during protests on Sunday said she will be left blind in one eye.

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