Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounces Hong-Kong’s face-covering prohibition implemented last Saturday, which threatens journalists’ right to protect themselves while reporting.
The prohibition on face-covering using a colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance was proclaimed and came into force on Saturday, October 5 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 defense. 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 RSF’s 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 victims of abuse, leading RSF to publicly address Chief Executive Carrie Lam in an open letter that received a canned answer without commitment.