Nov. 18 (UPI) — The Hong Kong High Court ruled Monday that a government ban on wearing face masks in public is unconstitutional.
According to the High Court’s decision, the mask ban implemented in early October is “incompatible” with Hong Kong’s constitution as its restrictions to the people’s rights are in excess of the danger imposed on the public.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam enacted the ban in October through the use of colonial-era emergency powers not used since 1967 in an effort to quell pro-democracy protests that have rocked the semiautonomous region for months.
The ban called for those convicted of wearing face masks in public to be punished with up to a year in prison and a $3,187 fine.
“We consider it to be clear that the measure adopted exceeds what is reasonably necessary to achieve the aim of law enforcement, investigation and prosecution of violent protesters even in the prevailing turbulent circumstances in Hong Kong, and that it fails to strike a reasonable balance between the societal benefits promoted and the inroads made into the protected rights,” judges Godfrey Lam and Anderson Chow wrote in the decision, public broadcaster RTHK reported.
The court also said the law gave police excess power to demand that people remove masks in public.
“There is practically no limit on the circumstance in which the power under that section can be exercised by a police officer,” the judges wrote in their decision.
The judges did say, however, that an anti-face mask law is not necessarily unconstitutional but for it to stand in court depends on “the details of the legislation and the particular societal aims sought to be pursued.”
The decision was made in response to a complaint filed by two dozen pan-democrats against the ban.
On Wednesday, the judges will reconvene to decide on the relief to be rewarded.
“I won’t comment on whether I have claimed victory or the government had lost,” former lawmaker and one of the complaint’s applicants Leung Kwok-hung told reporters outside the courtroom. “All I have in my mind is the people surrounded by police.”
Prominent protester Joshua Wong called the decision a “rare legal victory.”
The decision came as police have thousands of protesters surrounded within Polytechnic University during a standoff that started Sunday.