HK police nab protesters in campus stand-off as top court strikes down face mask ban


Police have arrested several protesters trying to run away from a battleground Hong Kong university campus that is currently being surrounded by police.

A small number managed to successfully evade arrest, leaving the campus using rope ladders and  picked up by waiting motorcycles.

Around 100 people tried to leave the Polytechnic University, but were met with tear gas and rubber bullets.

In the past week, the campus has turned into a battleground as long-running anti-government protests become more violent.

Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority says 116 people have been injured and taken to hospital.

The violence is some of the worst seen during months of unrest in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. The protests started over a controversial extradition bill, and have now evolved into broader anti-government demonstrations.

Police are still besieging the university where several hundred protesters are thought to be trapped. Officers have ordered those inside to drop their weapons and surrender.

A protester inside the university told the BBC supplies, including first aid equipment, were running low.

Meanwhile, a fire broke out on campus and loud explosions were heard, according to the South China Morning Post.

PolyU has been occupied by protesters for several days. On Sunday night, police warned protesters they had until 22:00 (14:00 GMT) to leave the campus, saying they could use live ammunition if the attacks continued.

On Sunday, the university said it had been “severely and extensively vandalised”.

A number of protesters left inside in the university have identified themselves as current students in media interviews but it is unclear exactly how many of them are, in fact, university students.

Top court favours face mask ban

On Monday, Hong Kong’s High Court has ruled against the ban on wearing face masks in public, which was issued earlier by chief executive Carrie Lam.

The ban, enacted in October, created more tensions in the city and set-off a series of violent clashes between police and protesters. Lam imposed the ban without seeking legislative approval by invoking powers granted under the rarely used Emergency Regulations Ordinance, or E.R.O.

The ban violated the Basic Law, the region’s mini-constitution, as it was too vague and it endangered the ability of the Legislative Council (LegCo) to make the territory’s laws, the court said in its ruling.

“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 ruling said.

Protesters  have worn face masks since the early days of their anti-government movement, to conceal their identities and protect themselves from pepper spray and tear gas fired at them by the police.

Many saw the law as a pretext that would allow officers to arrest nonviolent demonstrators in order to discourage people from joining the street actions.

“The judgment affirms the importance of separation of powers and fundamental freedoms under our constitutional order,” commented Simon Young, a professor at the University of Hong Kong Law School. (Source: BBC/NYTimes)