HONG KONG, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Hong Kong’s government invoked a British colonial-era law on Friday for the first time in more than 50 years as the Chinese-ruled territory grapples with an escalating cycle of violence that poses a direct challenge to President Xi Jinping.
The sweeping emergency laws allow authorities to “make any regulations whatsoever” in the public interest. This could include curfews, censorship of the media, control of harbours, ports and transportation.
The government also banned the use of face masks that many protesters have been wearing to hide their identity.
The last time the government used emergency laws was in 1967 to suppress leftist riots during China’s Cultural Revolution.
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Following is some comment on the use of emergency laws made shortly before the announcement:
Martin Lee, veteran Hong Kong Democrat:
“This is an ancient, colonial set of regulations, and you don’t use them unless you can’t legislate anymore. Once you start, there’s no end to it. She could even invoke Article 23 under this,” said Lee, referring to national security laws, speaking shortly before confirmation of the introduction of the emergency laws.
“That gives her justification - I need more police powers, I need more draconian laws - it’s so handy. She is completely destroying the rule of law. Only the government can really harm the rule of law, citizens cannot.”
Philip Hynes, head of Political Risk & Analysis at ISS Risk:
“This is the next significant miscalculation. The next will be barring certain candidates from running in District Council elections. Both will nicely inflame tensions and increase protests and actions,” said Hynes, shortly before the introduction of the emergency laws.
“As that happens, the prospects for the third pending calamity will rise exponentially, postponement of the district elections. Then it will descend into sustained chaos.”
Dennis Kwok, pro-democracy city lawmaker:
“I stressed that the use of emergency regulation will damage the rule of law of Hong Kong. It will serve to further restrict human rights and freedom,” said Kwok.
“The emergency regulation is only the beginning of the slip toward an authoritarian state.”
Sophie Richardson, china director at Human Rights Watch:
“Hong Kong authorities should be working to create a political environment in which protesters do not feel the need for masks - not banning the masks, and deepening restrictions on freedom of expression,” said Richardson, speaking shortly before the ban was announced.
“Chief Executive Carrie Lam needs to agree to an examination of excessive force by police and to resume the process toward universal suffrage. Additional restrictions are only likely to inflame tensions.”
Compiled by Anne Marie Roantree,