Hong Kong Protests: Campus Siege Enters a Second Day as Court Overturns Mask Ban

A standoff at a Hong Kong university between protesters and the police entered a second day on Monday with riot officers lobbing tear gas and firing rubber bullets at some students trying to flee the besieged campus, while others stayed bunkered inside with homemade weapons.

At least 38 people were injured in a protracted battle at the university, Hong Kong Polytechnic, on Sunday, the city’s Hospital Authority said, after a bloody battle in which a police officer was struck by an arrow and demonstrators set a police van on fire.

A core group of students remained inside the walls awaiting an expected operation to remove them from the campus.

As protests raged across the city, Hong Kong’s High Court struck down a contentious ban on the wearing of face masks in public. The court found that the ban, enacted in October, violated the territory’s mini-constitution, know as the Basic Law.

By The New York Times

The Hong Kong protests began in June over legislation, since scrapped, that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, and have expanded to include a broad range of demands for police accountability and greater democracy.

Here’s the latest:

The city’s High Court on Monday struck down a ban on wearing face masks in public, issuing a blow to the local government’s ability to characterize the ongoing protests as a situation that requires the invocation of emergency powers.

The ban, which was enacted in October, quickly inflamed tensions in the city and set off a series of violent clashes. The city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, imposed the ban without seeking legislative approval by invoking powers granted under the rarely used Emergency Regulations Ordinance, or E.R.O.

In its ruling, the court said the ban violated the city’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, because it was too vague and endangered the ability of the Legislative Council, or LegCo, to make the territory’s laws.

“The E.R.O. is so wide in its scope, the conferment of powers so complete, its conditions for invocation so uncertain and subjective, the regulations made thereunder invested with such primacy, and the control by the LegCo so precarious, that we believe it is not compatible with the constitutional order laid down by the Basic Law,” the court said in its ruling.

Masks have been worn by protesters since the early days of the movement, as a way for protesters to conceal their identities and protect themselves from the pepper spray and tear gas routinely deployed by the police. Many protesters saw the law a pretext that would allow officers to arrest nonviolent demonstrators in order to discourage people from joining the street actions.

Scores of people were arrested by the police on Monday morning near the university. A large group of arrested people were seen seated outside a hotel in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Kowloon, their hands zip-tied behind their backs.

It was unclear if the bulk of the arrestees were protesters trying to flee the campus or allies who had arrived at the university after responding to calls for help evacuating protesters trapped on campus.

At least 500 protesters remained on campus, after the police thwarted their attempts to escape by firing rubber bullets and volleys of tear gas, in an apparent break of a temporary truce that the university president, Jin-Guang Teng, said he had negotiated with the police.

The police said in a statement on Facebook that “a large group of masked rioters who have been holed up” at the university “suddenly charged at police cordons,” including many who held firebombs.

The police said they urged those inside the campus to “drop their weapons” and leave. Protesters were wary of following the police’s order to evacuate, as some were arrested after trying to leave, according to witnesses.

The police fired tear gas in the nearby neighborhood of Jordan, where roadblocks made with brick clusters and bamboo poles disrupted traffic.

Protesters have called for another strike on Monday in support of the campus occupiers, with demonstrations expected in the city’s Central business district.

Trains at several sections of the city’s rail network have been suspended or delayed.

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