A Hong Kong appeal court on Thursday overturned part of an earlier ruling which found the governments controversial ban on masks unconstitutional, declaring the measure imposed at the height of the civil unrest last year was valid.
But the Court of Appeal ruled that while it was constitutional for the government to ban the wearing of masks at unauthorised assemblies, the same would not be true for legal demonstrations, reports South China Morning Post newspaper.
The three appeal court justices also found the government had the power invoke the colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance to legislate the ban, overturning the lower court’s ruling that such a move would be unconstitutional, even when the city is under a state of “public danger”.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s embattled administration put the ban in place on October 5, 2019 following months of civil unrest that kicked off in June with the introduction of an extradition bill that would have opened the door to sending suspects to mainland China.
Although the bill was withdrawn last September, the movement had by then morphed from peaceful marches into citywide anti-government protests that routinely resulted in vandalism and violent confrontations with police.
The mask ban was introduced by invoking the colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance (ERO) to prevent violent protesters from hiding their identities, saying the unrest amounted to a “public danger”.
But the move, which banned face coverings at not just illegal assemblies but also lawful ones, sparked fears of declining civil liberties, and prompted activists and pro-democracy lawmakers to lodge judicial challenges.
Since the ban was put in place, a police spokesman said 682 people had been arrested for wearing masks, with 61 being prosecuted.