Face mask ban could further erode press freedom in Hong Kong

This statement was originally published on hkja.org.hk on 4 October 2019.

The Government has today invoked arcane colonial era legislation to introduce the Prohibition on Face Covering Regulations to prohibit the use of facial covering in any protest event, whether lawful or unlawful.

This provision covers gas masks routinely worn by journalists at demonstrations to protect against the effects of tear gas and other noxious substances and irritants used by police for crowd control.

Claims by the Government that journalists are exempt from the regulation have been refuted by legal experts who point out that provisions relating to ‘reasonable excuse’ for ‘persons engaged in a professional or employment’ and using facial covering for personal safety only provides a defence in a prosecution. This has to be asserted at trial and does not provide an exemption that would prevent use of the Regulations against journalists.

This raises the prospect of journalists being arrested, detained and prosecuted under the regulations and having to invoke the provision in their defence at trial.

The escalating aggression, obstruction and violence at the hands of the police, faced by journalists covering the protests, makes the abuse of this regulation a very real risk to journalists and constitutes a further encroachment on press freedom in Hong Kong.

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Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.

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