Two protesters charged in 1st use of Hong Kong’s new mask ban

HONG KONG (AP) — Two protesters were charged yesterday with violating Hong Kong’s new ban on wearing masks at rallies, a move likely to add to a backlash that has thrown the country into deeper crisis.

An 18-year-old student and a 38-year-old woman were the first to be prosecuted under the ban, which came into force on Saturday under sweeping emergency powers aimed at quashing violence in the protests for more democratic freedoms.

Detained early Saturday shortly after the ban took effect, the two were also charged with taking part in an unlawful assembly, which carries a heavier penalty of up to five years in jail. A conviction under the mask ban is punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine. They were both released on bail pending trial. “I am wearing a mask to come here today … this is a form of silent protest,” said student Bao Yeung, 16, who was among a large group of supporters outside the court.

Instead of deterring rioting and calming the anti-government demonstrations that have rocked the international financial hub for four months, the mask ban has led to more anger, with rallies and widespread violence over the last three days.

A protester is detained by police at the Wan Chai district in Hong Kong. PHOTO: AFP