Hong Kong has seen months of angry anti-government protests and last night chief executive Carrie Lam invoked a colonial-era emergency law in a bid to quell the unrest. But the move, which takes away protestors anonymity by prohibiting them from covering their faces, looks set to only escalate tensions, rather than diffuse them. Protests erupted immediately after the ban was announced on Friday, with further violence expected to continue into Saturday as officials announced a full service suspension of all trains and subway services.
Protests continued to engulf the semi-autonomous territory on Friday, as furious protestors blocked roads, torched Chinese flags and vandalised stations and businesses in retaliation to the ban.
This prompted officials to close the entire train network, paralysing transport in the Asian financial hub.
MTR Copr said its network, which carried about five million passengers each day, would remain suspended through Saturday.
It said in a statement: “As we are no longer in a position to provide safe and reliable service to passengers in the circumstances, the corporation had no choice but to make the decision to suspend the service of its entire network.”
The face mask ban comes after an escalation of violence at the beginning of the week, which saw a 14-year-old shot in the leg.
The teenager was reportedly shot by police during the protests, and he remains in a serious condition at Tuen Man hospital.
Ms Lam said “extreme violence” justified her tough stance, which saw the leader invoke emergency powers for the first time in half a century.
She said: “The radical behaviour of rioters took Hong Kong through a very dark night [on Friday], leaving society today half-paralysed.
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“The extreme violence clearly illustrated that Hong Kong’s public safety is widely endangered.
“That’s the concrete reason that we had to invoke emergency law yesterday to introduce the anti-mask law.”
But the ban has prompted fury amongst the demonstrators, as it was introduced without legislative approval.
Hundreds wore masks in defiance of the ban on Friday, but today the emergency provision comes in to effect – banning protestors from covering any part of their face.
But protests continue to wear masks in defiance of the ban, as they took to the streets on Saturday, marching through the central district of Causeway Bay.
More protests are planned throughout the weekend.
Dozens of shopping malls, supermarkets and banks, often targeted by demonstrators, have said they will not open their doors on Saturday.
Critics fear the face mask ban could lead to further “draconian” measures.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo told news agency AFP: “This is a watershed. This is a Rubicon. And I’m worried this could be just a starter.
“More draconian bans in the name of law could be lurking around the corner.”
Anonymity has become a central part of the movement, which first began in opposition to a bill that would allow extradition to mainland China.
The law has since been withdrawn from the legislature but the protests have snowballed into a broader pro-democracy movement.