(Updates with more quotes)
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 transport.
The government also banned the use of face masks, which 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 ahead of the announcement:
Francis Lun, CEO of GEO Securities
“Many people will regard the use of emergency law as the same as sentencing Hong Kong to the death penalty,” Lun said ahead of the announcement.
“The city is dying, everyone is losing confidence ... “Many people are unloading their investments. They are stupid if they don’t.”
Alvin Yeung, Civic Party lawmaker:
“Obviously anyone with a brain would understand introducing the anti-mask regulation will not bring Hong Kong to peace but to the complete contrary. It will only escalate the situation,” Yeung said ahead of the announcement.
“And we all understand this is a political issue, and it should have been resolved politically months ago.”
Gary Ng, economist at Natixis in Hong Kong
“The sentiment is quite mixed right now. The concern is whether this bill will initiate further tension. The longer-term issue for investors is whether the ordinance will be repeatedly used. The economic impact depends on how the social unrest will evolve.”
Christopher Cheung, Hong Kong lawmaker representing financial services sector:
“Anti-mask law is already implemented in many countries, it can hopefully reduce the impact (of protests) on the society. Any regulations that can reduce the impact should be considered,” Cheung said before the announcement. “The anti-mask law has little impact on the business sector. I think they will support.”
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 towards 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.” (Reporting by Donny Kwok, James Pomfret, Clare Jim, Noah Sin, Farah Master; Compiled by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Alex Richardson)