Hong Kong: Mask ban for unauthorized protests is absurd and dangerous

Responding to a Hong Kong appeal court ruling that partially reinstates the government’s mask ban, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong Man-Kei Tam said:

“Today’s ruling means Hong Kong’s repressive mask ban is only partially revoked. Authorities will be able to target people for wearing masks in any protest that is not ‘authorized’. In the past few months, we have seen police imposing excessive restrictions on freedom of assembly, cracking down on entirely peaceful protests and declaring them unlawful.

“At a time when the vast majority of Hong Kongers wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the idea of maintaining this ban is absurd, not to mention a potential threat to public health.

“Today’s ruling also revives the Emergency Regulations Ordinance (ERO), which essentially provides a blank cheque for the government to restrict human rights without any conditions or safeguards.

“The Hong Kong authorities should not use emergency rules as a smokescreen for further tightening restrictions on freedom of expression, whether in times of social unrest or COVID-19. All emergency measures should be with a legitimate aim, with necessary and proportionate restrictions and subject to a time limit.”


Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal today partially overturned an earlier ruling that the ERO and mask ban were unconstitutional, following an appeal by the Hong Kong government. The Court ruled that it is constitutional for police to enforce the mask ban in unauthorized protests.

According to Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance, those wishing to organize a protest are required to obtain “a notice of no objection” from the police before an assembly may proceed. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has expressed concern that the application of the Ordinance can facilitate excessive restrictions that are not in line with Hong Kong’s obligations under the ICCPR to respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

In 2019, the Hong Kong police adopted a tougher approach to restricting public assemblies. 47 protests were banned by authorities, but still went ahead – some with mass participation.

The Court also ruled today that the Hong Kong government has the power to issue emergency regulations on the grounds of public danger. 

In October 2019, the government announced a sweeping ban on full or partial face-coverings at protests. The mask ban was fast-tracked using the ERO.

In November 2019, Amnesty International Hong Kong expressed concerns over the ERO and the mask ban in its submission to the Hong Kong legislature.

For more details or to arrange an interview contact:

Lucy Scholey, Media Relations, Amnesty International Canada (English branch), 613-853-2142, lscholey@amnesty.ca