The Emergency Regulations Ordinance enacted on October 5, now bans any kind of face coverings during protests. Members of the public as well as journalists use the masks as a daily protection against the routine use of tear gas fired by Hong Kong’s police. While the government claims journalists are exempt, the HKJA has received reports that police are ordering journalists’ to remove their masks and, on occasion, forcefully removing the masks from journalists’ faces.
The Hong Kong protests which started as peaceful marches in March 2019 against a proposed extradition law, have been characterised by the routine use of tear gas by police. Major protests began on June 9 and the first major use of tear gas by police followed on June 12. Since then, the use of tear gas has been a feature of police retaliation and control of protests and violent clashes that have ensued between pro-government protesters and political reform protesters in Hong Kong.
The HKJA reinforced that face coverings are “essential for the safety of journalists that they wore gas masks or similar facial coverings when they deem it appropriate to do so”. The attack on journalists for protecting themselves whilst reporting is a gross violation of press freedom, it added.
The Colonial Era Emergency Regulations Ordinance was last used during riots in Hong Kong in 1967 in an attempt to quell conflict between demonstrators and police and effectively confer power to the Chief Executive to make regulations if they believe there is an emergency or public danger.
HKJA said: “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.”
The IFJ said: “Ensuring the safety of journalists and supporting journalists work and reporting is essential to guaranteeing press freedom. The Government of Hong Kong has an obligation to journalist safety not only in word but in action. This requires the full cooperation of the Hong Kong police which has been clearly trigger happy in the use of tear gas as a means of public control.”