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China says Hong Kong courts have no power to rule on face mask ban

China says Hong Kong courts have no power to rule on face mask ban

University students wearing Guy Fawkes masks pose for a photoshot to support anti-government protests before their graduation ceremony at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong, China, November 5, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

SHANGHAI: China’s top legislature said Hong Kong courts have no power to rule on the constitutionality of legislation under the city's Basic Law, which includes a ban on face masks, state news agency Xinhua reported on Tuesday (Nov 19).

The statement came a day after Hong Kong’s High Court ruled that a ban on wearing face masks during public demonstrations that have rocked the financial hub for more than five months was unconstitutional.

"Whether the laws of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region comply with the Basic Law of Hong Kong can only be judged and decided by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress," Yan Tanwei, a spokesman for the Legislative Affairs Commission of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, said in a statement.

"No other authority has the right to make judgments and decisions," the statement said.

READ: Fears of bloodshed as Hong Kong Polytechnic University stand-off enters third day

READ: Dozens of Hong Kong protesters make daring campus breakout

The ban on face-covering came into force in October, when the city's pro-Beijing leader invoked colonial-era legislation for the first time in more than 50 years.

Protesters had been using masks to hide their identities in public. The proposal was widely criticised by supporters of the anti-government movement, who saw it as posing a risk to demonstrators.

Demonstrators wear face masks during an anti-government protest in Central, Hong Kong, on Nov 12, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Hong Kong's High Court ruled on Monday that colonial-era emergency laws, which were revived to justify the mask ban, were "incompatible with the Basic Law", the mini-constitution under which Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997.

READ: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says campus protesters must surrender

READ: 'Don't test our bottom line' say Hong Kong police to protesters

Parliamentary spokesman Zang Tiewei said only the legislature had the right to rule on whether a law is in accordance with the Basic Law - the city's mini-constitution.

"No other institution has the right to make judgements or decisions," Zang said, according to a state media report posted on the National People's Congress' website.

He said the ruling had "severely weakened the governance" of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the city government.

Zang also indicated that the legislature might take some form of action.

"We are considering the relevant opinions and suggestions put forward by some NPC deputies," he said, without elaborating.

Masked protesters look at their mobile phones as they take part in a human chain rally in Hong Kong's Sha Tin district on October 18, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Philip FONG)

READ: Petrol bombs and tear gas rock Hong Kong, scores arrested for defying mask ban

Protests started in June as a peaceful condemnation of a now-shelved China extradition Bill, but have morphed into a confrontational action to defend the city's unique freedoms from perceived encroachment by Beijing.

China has repeatedly warned that it would not allow the city to spiral into total chaos, fuelling concerns that Beijing might deploy troops or other security forces to quell the unrest.

"The Hong Kong government is trying very hard to put the situation under control," China's ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, said on Monday.

"But if the situation becomes uncontrollable, the central government would certainly not sit on our hands and watch. We have enough resolution and power to end the unrest."

But Beijing has so far backed Lam and the city's police force, which has faced off with protesters in increasingly violent clashes.

This week police laid siege at a university campus where protesters - some armed with bows and homemade catapults to fire bricks - were holed up.

Dozens of protesters dramatically escaped the Hong Kong Polytechnic University late Monday by shimmying down ropes from a bridge to waiting motorbikes.

MORE: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

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Source: AGENCIES/jt


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