Hong Kong pupils cover faces in citywide protests marking one month since mask ban introduced

Kathleen Magramo

Pupils marked one month since the introduction of the mask ban in Hong Kong on Tuesday by covering their faces in protest, as students at a top secondary marched in support of two arrested schoolmates.

Young people from at least five city schools wore masks in defiance of the legislation, which came into force on October 5 as part of the government’s attempt to quell protests that have raged since June.

About 70 students marched from Kowloon Tong train station to La Salle College on Tuesday morning, against what they called police brutality and inhumane arrests, a day after dozens had staged a sit-in on the campus.

Students from La Salle hold a ‘walk with you’ protest from Kowloon Tong MTR station to the college campus in Kowloon Tsui. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Two pupils from the elite boys school, from Form Five and Form Six, were released on bail on Monday afternoon after they were arrested during Saturday’s protests in Wan Chai on suspicion of unlawful assembly, according to the school’s student concern group.

A Form 6 student from La Salle College, a member of the concern group who gave his surname as Ng, said the school authorities had supported the two arrested pupils, including through legal assistance.

He added the school did not stop students from holding events to express their political views.

The mask ban, brought in under colonial-era legislation, forbids anyone from wearing “facial coverings” that are likely to conceal a person’s identity during demonstrations.

The ban applies regardless of the legal status of the assemblies, with those convicted facing up to one year in jail and a HK$25,000 (US$3,187) fine.

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A 13-year-old La Salle student, who gave his name as S Chan, said he feared arrest but turning out in masks was the best way to register their anger.

“I’m aware that even simply walking together as a group in masks counts as an illegal assembly,” said Chan, who wore a black mask during the march.

“To be honest, I am afraid of being arrested but this is a rational and peaceful way to fight for my future.”

Masked students from Ying Wa College sit down in protest against the one-month-old facial covering law. Photo: Winson Wong

Anti-government protests have grown increasingly violent since June, when the unrest broke out, initially over the now-withdrawn extradition bill.

Hundreds were arrested for protest-related offences at the weekend, during which a university student was critically injured after falling from the third to second floor of a car park in Tseung Kwan O, and a district councillor had part of his ear bitten off.

Of the 2,300 protesters arrested over the first four months of the protests, about a third were aged under 18, the government said last month.

Form 6 student M Choi said he personally knew the two arrested students and was worried for their future.

“It’s really difficult for upper form students to focus on studies while we’re in an intense political crisis,” he added.

An alumni in his 30s, surnamed Chow, accused police officers of escalating tensions even before protests had begun, adding: “I think police are cowards for being increasingly rough on young protesters.”

Marchers also held the event in support of two La Salle students arrested during violent protests on Saturday in Wan Chai. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

At Ying Wa College and nearby St Margaret’s Co-educational English Secondary and Primary School in Sham Shui Po, more than 100 students wore Guy Fawkes masks and joined a sit-in outside school gates on Tuesday morning in defiance of the mask law.

About 80 students at St Francis Xavier’s College in Tai Kok Tsui put on various types of masks during Tuesday’s morning assembly, according to its student concern group. The group said “people’s anger towards the government would not weaken because of increased suppression”.

Hong Kong schools must tell government if students wear masks

At Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Kap Yan Directors’ College, where six students and alumni were arrested during protests last month, some students turned up masked on Tuesday morning, when term tests were being held.

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