Asia

Hong Kong court rejects mask ban challenge as fresh protests break out

HONG KONG: A Hong Kong court rejected on Sunday (Oct 6) a challenge to an emergency law criminalising protesters wearing face masks as activists hit the streets again in defiance of the ban despite half the city's subway stations remaining closed.

Thousands of protesters have staged unsanctioned flashmob rallies across the strife-torn city – some vandalising subway stations and shops – after Hong Kong's leader outlawed face coverings at protests, invoking colonial-era emergency powers not used for half a century.

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Pro-democracy lawmakers went to the High Court on Sunday seeking an emergency injunction against the ban, arguing the emergency powers bypassed the legislature and contravened the city's mini-constitution.

READ: Hong Kong metro system partially reopens as city braces for further protests

READ: China supports Hong Kong anti-mask law, warns protests evolving into 'colour revolution'

But a senior judge dismissed their injunction demand.

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As the ruling was being delivered, two unsanctioned rallies were kicking off on both sides of Victoria Harbour, with thousands of masked protesters gathering in torrential downpours.

As at 1:15pm at Sogo, Causeway Bay in Hong Kong where protesters aim to have 3 million people out in the streets to rally against the ban on wearing face masks at gatherings pic.twitter.com/EbbFNNWpog

— Leong Wai Kit (@LeongWaiKitCNA) October 6, 2019

After four months of huge and increasingly violent protests, the city's unelected pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam invoked a sweeping colonial-era law on Friday allowing her to make "any regulations whatsoever" during a time of public danger.

She used it to ban masks – which protesters have used to hide their identity or protect from tear gas – and warned she would use the powers to make new regulations if the unrest did not abate.

Police chased down a couple wearing facemasks in the Central district in Hong Kong AFP/NICOLAS ASFOURI

The move was welcomed by government supporters and Beijing.

But opponents and protesters saw it as the start of a slippery slope tipping the international finance hub into authoritarianism.

"I would say this is one of the most important constitutional cases in the history of Hong Kong," lawmaker Dennis Kwok told reporters before the ruling.

"If this emergency law just gets a pass just like that Hong Kong will be deemed into a very black hole," he added, previously likening Lam to the autocratic English monarch Henry VIII.

TWO TEEN PROTESTERS SHOT

Hong Kong has been battered a summer of rage as widespread public anger seethes over Chinese rule and the police response to protests.

The rallies were ignited by a now-scrapped plan to allow extraditions to the mainland, which fuelled fears of an erosion of liberties promised under the 50-year "one country, two systems" model China agreed ahead of the 1997 handover by Britain.

After Beijing and local leaders took a hard line, the demonstrations snowballed into a wider movement calling for more democratic freedoms and police accountability.

READ: No more masks: The colonial-era law that gives Hong Kong leader sweeping powers

READ: Hong Kong protesters defy mask ban as city grinds to halt

Lam has refused major concessions but struggled to come up with any political solution, leaving police and demonstrators to fight increasingly violent battles as the city tips into recession.

The worst clashes to date erupted on Tuesday as China celebrated 70 years of Communist Party rule, with a teenager shot and wounded by police as he attacked an officer.

A 14-year-old boy was then shot and wounded Friday night when a plainclothes police officer, who was surrounded by a mob of protesters throwing petrol bombs, fired his sidearm.

That night, masked protesters went on a rampage in dozens of locations, trashing subway stations and businesses with mainland China ties.

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