The Hong Kong Police Department complained in an update on criminal behavior in the city on Wednesday that an ordinance mandating the wearing of sanitary masks in public has made their work more difficult, placing law enforcement at odds with the local government.
Hong Kong police administrators pushed for a ban on wearing masks in public last year that resulted in a law making face coverings punishable with up to one year in prison last October. The situation in the city changed dramatically with a surge of Chinese coronavirus cases – fueled by lax enforcement of limitations on travel by people from China – in recent weeks, resulting in a mirror image law: not wearing a mask in public could result in a fine of up to $645. The Chinese-controlled Hong Kong government has not clarified how it will reconcile the two laws, so it is possible that both wearing a mask and not wearing a mask can result in legal sanction.
The Hong Kong police force, which has faced consistent international condemnation for brutality against pro-democracy protesters, published an update on the crime rate in the city throughout 2020, blaming the protests for an increase in crimes like assault, arson, and rioting. The statement claimed that Hong Kong saw a 217.9 percent spike in the first half of 2020 compared to the first half of 2019.
“The increase was attributable to crimes arising from ‘anti-extradition amendment bill’ related incidents,” the police department claimed, citing as their metric for how much crime the city experienced the number of arrests that they made, though many occurred during protests.
Protests erupted in Hong Kong last year in response to a proposed law that would have allowed the extradition of anyone present in Hong Kong to the communist Chinese legal system. While the Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo) ultimately did not pass the law, Beijing’s National People’s Congress (NPC) effectively enacted the same policy by passing a “national security law” that allows China to prosecute people in Hong Kong if considered a threat to the security of the Communist Party.
The police asserted that, despite the passage of the law, “the disobedience to law [sic]among some members of public [sic]is growing, economy is worsening and community-wide mask wearing has enabled criminals to conceal their identities more easily.”
These factors, the statement concluded, make it “difficult to restore the law and order situation to the level before the ‘anti-extradition amendment bill’ incidents within a short period of time.”