Two protesters were charged Monday with violating Hong Kong’s new ban on wearing masks at rallies, a move likely to add to a backlash that has thrown the semi-autonomous Chinese territory into deeper crisis.
An 18-year-old student and a 38-year-old unemployed woman were the first to be prosecuted under the ban, which came into force Saturday under sweeping emergency powers aimed at quashing violence in the protests for more democratic freedoms.
The protest were sparked by a proposed law that would have allowed some criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial, but have since morphed into a larger anti-government movement. Protesters are upset at what they say are Beijing’s increasing influence over the former British colony, which was promised a level of autonomy when it was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997.
In a statement Monday, police said the “public order of the whole city is being pushed to the verge of a very dangerous situation.” The chaos has led many shops and public services to shutter and panic buying in some areas.
The city’s MTR network of subways and trains was entirely closed Saturday and partially reopened Sunday but was quickly targeted again by protesters. Most stations remained closed Monday amid fears of more protests.
Critics fear Lam’s use of the emergency law that gives her broad powers to implement any measures she deems necessary could pave the way for more draconian moves. The law was enacted by the British in 1922 to quell a seamen’s strike and was last used in 1967 to crush riots.
Lam has said she will seek the legislature’s backing for the mask ban when it meets next on Oct. 16.
But it sparked fears of more deadly duels after two teens were injured by gunfire from officers under attack this week. An 18-year-old protester, shot at close range by a riot officer on Tuesday, was charged with rioting and assaulting police. A 14-year-old teen, who suffered a gunshot wound to his thigh Friday night, was arrested.