Police confirm 77 people arrested over controversial mask ban since Friday

Regional Commander of New Territories North Kwok Yam-yung addresses reporters at today’s press briefing. Screengrab via Facebook video.
Regional Commander of New Territories North Kwok Yam-yung addresses reporters at today’s press briefing. Screengrab via Facebook video.

More than 70 people have been arrested over Carrie Lam’s controversial mask ban since it was implemented at midnight on Saturday morning, Hong Kong police said today.

At a police press conference this afternoon, Kwok Yam-yung, regional commander of New Territories North, confirmed that 241 people aged 12 to 54 were arrested between Friday, Oct. 4 and Monday, Oct. 7 on an assortment of charges, including taking part in an unlawful assembly and possessing offensive weapons.

Of those, 77 people — aged 12 to 41 — were arrested under the new mask ban, which was passed under Hong Kong’s draconian emergency powers law, last invoked more than 50 years ago. Of those arrested for wearing masks, 74 were accused of “using facial covering at an unlawful assembly,” while the remaining three were accused of failing to comply with a police request to remove a facial covering in a public place.

So far, the total number of people arrested in connection with the city’s ongoing anti-government demonstrations has reached 2,363.

Police today also defended their enforcement of the controversial anti-mask regulation after videos emerged showing officers demanding reporters remove their masks, even though Security Secretary John Lee had said at Friday’s press briefing that journalists covering protests would be exempt from the ban as they were wearing gas masks for “professional reasons.”

Instances of police targeting reporters included one caught by an SCMP video, which showed an officer ordering a reporter to remove their mask while demanding to know “who gave you the right to wear a mask.” According to Apple Daily, a police officer also forcibly removed the face mask of one of their reporters.

As they have done on previous occasions, reporters at this afternoon’s press briefing turned up today wearing face masks to protest the police’s treatment of frontline journalists.

When asked by an RTHK reporter how long it would take for police to be familiar with the new regulation they’re now enforcing, Senior Superintendent Ng Cheuk-hang of the Crime Wing Headquarters said: “In our view, genuine reporters will be covered.”

When asked if police would promise not to ask reporters to remove masks, Ng maintained police “will act according to the law.”

Pressed on the matter, Ng added: “The law has just been enacted for less than four days; even for ourselves, even for all the citizens of Hong Kong, we need time.”

On Monday, a male university student and a 38-year-old woman were the first people to be charged with illegally wearing masks as supporters packed the courtroom — many wearing face coverings themselves.

They were charged with unlawful assembly, which carries up to three years jail time, and with defying the mask ban, which has a maximum one-year sentence. Both were released on bail.

Additional reporting by AFP.

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