Hong Kong court U-turns on decision to revoke face mask ban as defiant student protesters hold out

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A Hong Kong court has suspended its decision to strike down a government ban on wearing face masks at protests, allowing police to enforce the decree for another week.

The announcement from the city’s High Court today came after it ruled the ban – which was passed under colonial emergency law – ‘unconstitutional’ on Monday.

The extension was granted before keenly contested local elections are to be held this Sunday in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

Meanwhile, at least eight protesters who had been holding out at a trashed Hong Kong university surrendered on Friday, while others searched for escape routes past riot police who surrounded the campus.

The siege at the city’s Polytechnic University appeared to be nearing an end with the number of protesters dwindling to a handful, days after some of the worst violence since anti-government demonstrations escalated in June.

Police said there was no deadline for ending the standoff. 

Universities in Hong Kong have this month witnessed some of the worst violent clashes between activists and police since the city's anti-government unrest began in June. Pictured, protesters use a catapult against police during in Hong Kong's City University on November 12

Universities in Hong Kong have this month witnessed some of the worst violent clashes between activists and police since the city's anti-government unrest began in June. Pictured, protesters use a catapult against police during in Hong Kong's City University on November 12

Universities in Hong Kong have this month witnessed some of the worst violent clashes between activists and police since the city’s anti-government unrest began in June. Pictured, protesters use a catapult against police during in Hong Kong’s City University on November 12

Six protesters hold hands as they leave the Hong Kong Polytechnic University before surrendering to police today. The last group of activists are still holding out on campus

Six protesters hold hands as they leave the Hong Kong Polytechnic University before surrendering to police today. The last group of activists are still holding out on campus

Six protesters hold hands as they leave the Hong Kong Polytechnic University before surrendering to police today. The last group of activists are still holding out on campus

The siege at the city's Polytechnic University appeared to be nearing an end with protesters dwindling after a brutal week. Pictured, police in riot gear move through a cloud of smoke as they detain a protester at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on November 18

The siege at the city's Polytechnic University appeared to be nearing an end with protesters dwindling after a brutal week. Pictured, police in riot gear move through a cloud of smoke as they detain a protester at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on November 18

The siege at the city’s Polytechnic University appeared to be nearing an end with protesters dwindling after a brutal week. Pictured, police in riot gear move through a cloud of smoke as they detain a protester at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong on November 18

Litter left by anti-government protesters remains in the campus of the Polytechnic University

Litter left by anti-government protesters remains in the campus of the Polytechnic University

Litter left by anti-government protesters remains in the campus of the Polytechnic University

The court said on Monday that the anti-mask legislation ‘goes further than necessary’ to restrict fundamental human rights. Police agreed to stop enforcing the law immediately.

But the Chinese central government slammed the decision, claiming only Beijing has the right to decide on the constitutionality of laws.

The Hong Kong government then appealed for a freeze on the ruling while it appeals to higher courts.

The court said on Monday the anti-mask legislation 'goes further than necessary' to restrict fundamental human rights. It ruled the ban, passed by an emergency law, 'unconstitutional'

The court said on Monday the anti-mask legislation 'goes further than necessary' to restrict fundamental human rights. It ruled the ban, passed by an emergency law, 'unconstitutional'

The court said on Monday the anti-mask legislation ‘goes further than necessary’ to restrict fundamental human rights. It ruled the ban, passed by an emergency law, ‘unconstitutional’

Many Hong Kong protesters have defied the mask-ban since it came into effect in October. Pictured, protesters hold up their hands during an anti-government protest at a mall yesterday

Many Hong Kong protesters have defied the mask-ban since it came into effect in October. Pictured, protesters hold up their hands during an anti-government protest at a mall yesterday

Many Hong Kong protesters have defied the mask-ban since it came into effect in October. Pictured, protesters hold up their hands during an anti-government protest at a mall yesterday

The High Court agreed to grant the one-week suspension in view of the ‘highly exceptional circumstances that Hong Kong is currently facing’, local broadcaster RTHK reported. 

China’s rubber-stamp parliament rebuked the court ruling this week, in what some interpreted as an indication it might overrule the verdict.

Many Hong Kong protesters have defied the ban, and during lunchtime rallies Friday, some chanted ‘We have the right to wear masks’.

Most of the protesters who took over Hong Kong Polytechnic University last week have left, but an unknown number have remained inside for days. Pictured, an aerial view taken today shows the main entrance (top right) to the campus and debris leftover from protesters

Most of the protesters who took over Hong Kong Polytechnic University last week have left, but an unknown number have remained inside for days. Pictured, an aerial view taken today shows the main entrance (top right) to the campus and debris leftover from protesters

Most of the protesters who took over Hong Kong Polytechnic University last week have left, but an unknown number have remained inside for days. Pictured, an aerial view taken today shows the main entrance (top right) to the campus and debris leftover from protesters

Around 1,000 people have been arrested or recorded, including around 300 aged below 18, during the siege. Pictured, an aerial view taken today shows the main entrance (top right) of the campus leading to a road (top) where clashes between protesters and police took place

Around 1,000 people have been arrested or recorded, including around 300 aged below 18, during the siege. Pictured, an aerial view taken today shows the main entrance (top right) of the campus leading to a road (top) where clashes between protesters and police took place

Around 1,000 people have been arrested or recorded, including around 300 aged below 18, during the siege. Pictured, an aerial view taken today shows the main entrance (top right) of the campus leading to a road (top) where clashes between protesters and police took place

Tang Chun-Keung, head of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said the holdouts include minors, numbering less than 10, and they are emotionally unstable. Pictured, shattered glass is seen at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University today

Tang Chun-Keung, head of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said the holdouts include minors, numbering less than 10, and they are emotionally unstable. Pictured, shattered glass is seen at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University today

Tang Chun-Keung, head of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said the holdouts include minors, numbering less than 10, and they are emotionally unstable. Pictured, hattered glass is seen at Hong Kong Polytechnic University

The city’s new police commissioner, Tang Ping-keung, told reporters police would be out in force at polling stations Sunday to respond to any outbreak of violence ‘without hesitation’.

Hong Kong authorities have prohibited students in all government-run schools from holding or attending demonstrations on campus after the city’s campuses turned into war zones due to escalating clashes between protesters and police.

Youngsters have also been banned from boycotting classes, singing protest songs, shouting slogans, forming human chains or handing out political leaflets, according to a letter issued by the city’s Education Bureau to parents yesterday.

Offenders will be punished by their schools, the letter said. 

Hong Kong authorities yesterday laid down rules for students in government-run schools after the city's campuses turned into war zones due to clashes. Pictured, protesters use a catapult to fire bricks at the police from inside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Sunday

Hong Kong authorities yesterday laid down rules for students in government-run schools after the city's campuses turned into war zones due to clashes. Pictured, protesters use a catapult to fire bricks at the police from inside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Sunday

Hong Kong authorities yesterday laid down rules for students in government-run schools after the city’s campuses turned into war zones due to clashes. Pictured, protesters use a catapult to fire bricks at the police from inside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University on Sunday

Riot police detain protesters amid clouds of tear gas at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Riot police detain protesters amid clouds of tear gas at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Riot police detain protesters amid clouds of tear gas at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University

The letter was signed off by Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, who urged students not to destroy social order, including blocking trains, cars and roads.

Students are also warned against joining anti-government rallies or using offensive language outside their schools while wearing their uniforms. 

‘I urge students to cherish themselves, take care of others, and [I] request that parents advise their sons and daughters against attending dangerous or illegal activities to avoid impact on their whole life,’ Mr Yeung said in the letter.

Hong Kong has been rocked by anti-government protests for more than five months. 

The movement was ignited in June when millions took to streets in opposition to a now-abandoned attempt to allow extraditions from Hong Kong to the mainland. 

More than 5,000 people have been arrested so far in connection to the unrest. Among them, nearly 40 per cent are students. 

Students have been banned from forming human chains on campus. Pictured, a group of girls link hands outside St. Paul's Co-Educational College in Hong Kong on September 9

Students have been banned from forming human chains on campus. Pictured, a group of girls link hands outside St. Paul's Co-Educational College in Hong Kong on September 9

Students have been banned from forming human chains on campus. Pictured, a group of girls link hands outside St. Paul’s Co-Educational College in Hong Kong on September 9

Youngsters will face punishment if they hold or attend any protesters in their schools. They have been banned from boycotting classes too. Pictured, thousands of students gather during a strike on the first day of school at the Chinese University in Hong Kong on September 2

Youngsters will face punishment if they hold or attend any protesters in their schools. They have been banned from boycotting classes too. Pictured, thousands of students gather during a strike on the first day of school at the Chinese University in Hong Kong on September 2

Youngsters will face punishment if they hold or attend any protesters in their schools. They have been banned from boycotting classes too. Pictured, thousands of students gather during a strike on the first day of school at the Chinese University in Hong Kong on September 2

A 12-year-old boy yesterday became the youngest person to be convicted in the protest for spray-painting slogans, including ‘damn rogue cops’ and ‘divine annihilation, free HK’, on a police station and train station.

An anonymous headmaster of a government-run school told local newspaper Sing Tao Daily: ‘There are indeed students from government-run schools who boycotted classes, [formed] human chains and attended off-campus rallies. Schools have guidance and discipline to deal with [the situation].’ 

The headmaster added: ‘The precondition is that political views should not be promoted inside schools. Teachers and students also need to understand the mission of government-run schools.’ 

Hong Kong police laid siege to Polytechnic University from last weekend, firing rubber bullets and tear gas to pin back protesters armed with petrol bombs and other weapons and stop them from fleeing amid fears of a bloody crackdown. 

The anti-government movement was ignited in June when millions took to streets in opposition to a now-abandoned attempt to allow extraditions from Hong Kong to the mainland. Pictured, protesters react as police fire tear gas after a march to call for democratic reforms on July 21

The anti-government movement was ignited in June when millions took to streets in opposition to a now-abandoned attempt to allow extraditions from Hong Kong to the mainland. Pictured, protesters react as police fire tear gas after a march to call for democratic reforms on July 21

The anti-government movement was ignited in June when millions took to streets in opposition to a now-abandoned attempt to allow extraditions from Hong Kong to the mainland. Pictured, protesters react as police fire tear gas after a march to call for democratic reforms on July 21

The siege of the city's Polytechnic University appeared to be nearing an end after almost a week. An aerial view shows the main entrance (bottom central) to the campus on the Kowloon peninsula and debris leftover from protesters who barricaded themselves inside

The siege of the city's Polytechnic University appeared to be nearing an end after almost a week. An aerial view shows the main entrance (bottom central) to the campus on the Kowloon peninsula and debris leftover from protesters who barricaded themselves inside

The siege of the city’s Polytechnic University appeared to be nearing an end after almost a week. An aerial view shows the main entrance (bottom central) to the campus on the Kowloon peninsula and debris leftover from protesters who barricaded themselves inside

For days, protesters fortified the campus to keep police from getting in. Cornered by authorities, they were trying to get out.

Desperate activists tried to flee by climbing through sewage pipes or abseiling from bridges.

Around 1,000 people have been arrested or recorded, including around 300 aged below 18, during the siege of the university on the Kowloon peninsula, according to police. 

Most of the protesters who took over Hong Kong Polytechnic University last week have left, but an unknown number have remained inside for days, hoping somehow to avoid arrest.

Tang Chun-Keung, head of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, said the holdouts include minors, numbering less than 10, and they are emotionally unstable. Tang entered the campus Friday with some others but failed to find them.

‘We have lawyers and social workers ready to provide assistance and we hope to persuade them to leave the campus. We are worried our work is getting more and more difficult because students are refusing to meet us,’ he told reporters.

Police chief Tang reiterated that those under 18 could leave, although they might face charges later, and pledged impartial treatment for all adults facing arrest.

‘The condition is deteriorating and dangerous, there are many explosives and petrol bombs inside … we hope to end the matter peacefully,’ he said, adding police didn’t set any deadline to end the siege.

The anti-government protesters battled with police and blocked the nearby approach to a major road tunnel, which remains closed. It was the latest bout in more than five months of unrest. Protesters are demanding fully democratic elections and an investigation into alleged police brutality in suppressing the demonstrations.

Anti-government rallies were held sporadically in the past two days. Riot police broke up minor scuffles between protesters and pro-Beijing supporters at a downtown bridge Friday, but there were no major clashes ahead of Sunday’s district council elections.

City leaders have said they want to go ahead with the vote, seen as a bellwether of public support for the protests, but warned violence could make it impossible to hold a fair and safe election.

Asked if the police presence would make voters feel uncomfortable, police chief Tang said it will make citizens ‘feel safe to go out and vote.’