North-East travel writer Tommy Walker, who is in Hong Kong, discusses the controversial anti-mask law for protestors which came into effect at the beginning of October.

WITH the civil unrest in Hong Kong showing no signs of abating, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has taken drastic measures in an attempt to curb the ongoing violence throughout the city. The ERO (Emergency Regulations Ordinance) has been invoked allowing the Chief Executive to make any regulations considered desirable in the public interest. Many powers that can be used include arrests, deportation, property seizures, control of transportation and censorship.

The first and currently only law used so far came into force on October 5 and is the so-called “anti-mask law”. Significant in these protests, the anti-mask law prevents thousands of protestors from using any form of a mask during the demonstrations. Masks are used heavily for two things, sealing identities and protection from tear gas and other projectiles. Offenders risk up to one-year imprisonment and a fine of $25,000 HKD (£2,500).

The use of nose-to-mouth masks is part of a culture that was seen daily in Hong Kong, often used to protect citizens from air pollution and the spreading of inter-city germs.

The ERO was used under British colonial rule during the Hong Kong 1967 riots. Back then it was Communists, supported by the People’s Republic of China, against the British Hong Kong government. That began about labour disputes but eventually escalated into violent clashes, terrorist attacks, and bombs, and left more than 50 dead.

Back in 2019, the anti-mask law hasn’t done anything to deter protestors from wearing them, or slowed down demonstrations. That being said, more arrests have been made for the offence, whilst many fear it will discourage peaceful protestors from attending rallies. Many peaceful demonstrators attend mass rallies during the day before the inevitable clashes occur in the evenings.

The Northern Echo:

When Britain handed Hong Kong back to mainland China in 1997, the agreement was for Hong Kong to be highly autonomous and enjoy the freedoms – unseen on the mainland – until the year 2047. Despite that still being just under three decades away, Beijing has been slowly eroding Hong Kong’s freedoms.

The introduction of the controversial extradition bill in June sparked outrage causing huge protests and clashes across the city. As we stand today, it has now evolved into additional demands including independent police inquiries and further calls for democracy. Four months of protests have now escalated into regular clashes between pro-democracy protesters and the Hong Kong police.

As a result, the city has seen a huge drop in tourism and service industries have been severely hit by the unrest. It has been estimated that Hong Kong is heading for a recession. Add in the growing issues with the MTR (Mass Transit System) – rumours of collusion with the Hong Kong police, heavy damage, and suspension of services – the city is slowly becoming paralysed.

MANY Hongkongers feel the ERO marks the beginning of the end of Hong Kong, as we know it. Others are suggesting it’s the beginning of martial law. Despite this, there are many who believe it won’t stop the use of masks. The feeling is with or without a mask, they are in trouble.

I listened to Carrie Lam’s announcement by radio whilst I was waiting for my washing in a local laundrette. There was something that reminded me about the recording of Neville Chamberlain announcing Great Britain was at war with Nazi-Germany.

It is difficult to judge how the Hong Kong protests will conclude. Many thought October 1 (China’s National Day), was “D-Day” and that the Chinese military would have taken control. That hasn’t happened, and it may not for some time, despite Carrie Lam recently going on record to say how she wouldn’t rule out the help from Beijing if needed in the future. Let’s not forget, this isn’t China of 1989 where the Tiananmen Square massacre happened. China has since had a meteoritic rise economically, and is only behind the US as the world’s leading super-power. To cut a long story short, China has more to lose now than it did 30 years ago.

The Northern Echo:

The feeling from the ground is the Hong Kong police will not be able to solve the current crisis. Their very presence seems to amplify the mood. They’ve tried different tactics, with tear gas, water cannons filled with blue dye, rubber bullets and now even with live firearms. Attempts to disperse crowds early afternoon have failed. No matter what they seem to do actively, it doesn’t seem to be working.

In the bigger picture, the protestors and police should be working together if there is a substantial desire to free Hong Kong from mainland China. However, going by the previous months that potential will never be fulfilled.