HK court rules mask ban unconstitutional, police continue to besiege campus
HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s High Court ruled on Monday that a British colonial-era emergency law revived by the government to ban protesters wearing face masks was unconstitutional as police continue to surround a university campus after a fiery overnight stand-off with hundreds of protesters inside.
The court said the law was “incompatible with the Basic Law”, the mini-constitution under which Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Under the law, wearing a mask at any kind of assembly was made illegal. The police had also been given the power to order people to remove masks at any time and at any location.
Hong Kong police, meanwhile, continue to battle anti-government protesters trying to escape a university where hundreds are holed up with petrol bombs and other homemade weapons amid fears of a bloody crackdown.
Dozens tried to flee the Polytechnic University after a night of mayhem in the Chinese-ruled city in which major roads were blocked and a bridge was set on fire and a police officer was shot by a bow and arrow.
Many were arrested near the university on Monday, public broadcaster RTHK reported, while in the nearby commercial area of Nathan Road activists stopped traffic and forced shopping malls and stores to shut.
“We’ve been trapped here for too long. We need all Hong Kongers to know we need help,” said Dan, a 19-year-old protester on the campus, as he burst into tears.
“I don’t know how much longer we can go on like this. We may need international help.”
Protesters tried to make another run for it in the afternoon but were met with more volleys of tear gas.
Thirty-eight people were wounded overnight on Sunday, the city’s Hospital Authority said. Reuters witnesses saw some protesters suffering from burns from chemicals in jets fired from police water cannons.
“Remember you have life in your hands. Why do you need to push us to death?” one person shouted at police from a campus rooftop as protesters wearing gas masks and clutching umbrellas looked for ways to escape.
Police urged protesters to “drop their weapons” and leave.
“Police appeal to everyone inside the Polytechnic University to drop their weapons and dangerous items, remove their gas masks and leave via the top level of Cheong Wan Road South Bridge in an orderly manner,” they said in a statement.
“They should follow police instructions and must not charge at police cordons.”
Live video showed protesters with their hands tied behind their backs sitting cross-legged on a road as riot police stood guard in one of the busiest commercial and tourist districts in the former British colony.
Police said they fired three live rounds when “rioters” attacked two officers who were attempting to arrest a woman. No one was wounded and the woman escaped amid a dramatic escalation of the unrest that has plunged the Asian financial hub into chaos for almost six months.