October 8, 2019 - Updated on October 16, 2019

Hong Kong: mask-ban endangers journalists

Hong-Kong’s face-covering prohibition implemented last Saturday threatens journalists’ right to protect themselves while reporting, denounces Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The prohibition on face-covering using a colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance was proclaimed and came into force on Saturday October 4th despite widespread criticism. According to the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), journalists that carry a protective mask are at risk of being arrested, detained and prosecuted under the law, although they may invoke professional motives as their defence. Footage of reporters being requested by police to remove their gas-mask have already surfaced on social media.

“Over the past four months, journalists in Hong Kong have been exposed to massive doses of tear gas, pepper spray and fumes that pose a direct threat to their health,” says Cédric Alviani, head of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia Bureau, who urges Hong Kong authorities to “ensure that reporters are formally exempt from the ban and effectively free to protect themselves while carrying on their mission.”

Officially presented as a response to the violence that erupted during the pro-democracy demonstrations over the past weeks, the ban prohibits the wearing of full or partial facial covering, including face paint, at any public assembly, whether legal or not.

Since the beginning of the demonstrations in June, journalists have been under tremendous pressure in Hong Kong and many of them have also been victim of abuse, leading RSF to publicly address Chief Executive Carrie Lam in an open letter that received a canned answer without commitment.

In the RSF World Press Freedom Index, Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, plummeted from 18th in 2002 to 73rd this year.