Hong Kong masks ban remains in place for local elections
Voters go to the polls on Sunday for a council ballot being viewed as a verdict on the ongoing protest movement.
A Hong Kong court has suspended its decision to dismiss a government ban on wearing face masks at protests, allowing police to enforce the decree for another week around keenly contested local elections.
The court had ruled on Monday that the ban, imposed in October under rarely used emergency powers to prevent anti-government protesters from hiding their identity, infringed on fundamental rights more than was reasonably necessary.
The government had appealed for a freeze on the ruling while it appeals to higher courts.
The High Court agreed on Friday to grant a one-week suspension in view of the “highly exceptional circumstances that Hong Kong is currently facing”, local broadcaster RTHK reported.
Many Hong Kong protesters have defied the ban, and during lunchtime rallies on Friday some chanted: “We have the right to wear masks.”
The city’s new police commissioner, Tang Ping-keung, told reporters officers would be out in force at polling stations on Sunday to respond to any outbreak of violence “without hesitation”.
Meanwhile six masked protesters surrendered before dawn on Friday at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, which was taken over by demonstrators last week.
The group emerged from a campus entrance and held hands as they walked towards a checkpoint. Five wore the black clothing favoured by the protest movement.
Most of the protesters who took over the campus have now left, but an unknown number have remained inside.
Tang Chun-Keung, head of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said some of those who remain in the campus are minors who, he said, are “emotionally unstable”.
Police have said those under 18 can leave, although they may face charges later, and pledged impartial treatment for all adults facing arrest.
Protesters involved in the months-long action across Hong Kong are demanding fully democratic elections and an investigation into alleged police brutality in suppressing the demonstrations.
City leaders have said they want to go ahead with the vote due on Sunday, which is being seen as a bellwether of public support for the protests, but warned violence could make it impossible to hold a fair and safe election.
Asked if the police presence would make voters feel uncomfortable, police chief Mr Tang insisted it will make citizens “feel safe to go out and vote”.