Local authorities in Hong Kong on Monday charged a 38-year-old woman and an 18-year-old male student with violating a recent ban on wearing masks at rallies.
The first to be prosecuted under the ban, the two protesters were arrested early Saturday shortly after the ban took effect. The ban, which is punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine, was enforced under the government’s use of emergency powers.
The protesters also face charges of “taking part in unlawful assembly,” which could land them both up to five years in jail. Both were released on bail, reports the Associated Press.
According to Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, the mask ban will enable the police to easily identify rioters from the peaceful protesters.
However, some have criticized Lam’s use of the emergency law as it grants her broad powers to implement any measures she deems necessary. Granting emergency powers to the state was enacted by the British in 1922 to stop a seamen’s strike. It was last used in 1967 to quell riots.
So far, reaction to the mask ban was more anger from both peaceful marchers and radical protesters. The ban and the arrests are expected to ignite more anti-government demonstrations from protesters who have been taking to the streets since June.
In a display of defiance, tens of thousands of masked protesters went out on Sunday to march in the city center. However, what started out as a peaceful rally ended up in violence as some demonstrators started fires and vandalized China-linked establishments. Riot police responded with tear gas during clashes with the violent groups.
“Public order of the whole city is being pushed to the verge of a very dangerous situation,” said the police in a statement on Monday.
A second effort to invalidate the mask ban was rejected, although Hong Kong’s High Court agreed to hear an application by 24 legislators against Lam’s use of the colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance to impose the ban without legislative approval. The hearing was set later this month.
Meanwhile, Lam has said she will seek the support of the legislature for the mask ban when it meets on Oct. 16.
Featured Image via Getty