Lawmakers urged the government to legislate to prevent protestors from wearing masks, after many of them hid their identities during the Mong Kok riot to avoid being caught by the police.
At a special meeting of the Legislative Council’s security panel on Tuesday morning, pro-establishment lawmakers expressed concerns about the large number of protesters masking themselves during the “organised” Mong Kok riot last week.
“Would the government consider to pass a new law, like in Germany, Austria and the States, to ban protesters from wearing masks?” asked lawmaker Elizabeth Quat from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.
READ MORE: The day Hong Kong’s innocence died at the hands of a Mong Kok mob
The Security Bureau and police force dodged the questions but slammed those who hid their identities.
“Protesters were always aboveboard,” said Secretary for Security Lai Tung-Kok.
“There was a small group of rioters masking themselves during the planned riot in Mong Kok in order to hide their identities and get rid of legal responsibilities. We expressed the same concerns,” he said.
Police Director of Operations Alan Lau Yip-shing said officers were entitled to intercept any suspicious person under the current law.
Hong Kong police chief comments on Mong Kong street vendor riot
Clashes erupted on February 8 – the first night of Lunar New Year – when a group of activists from Hong Kong Indigenous confronted hygiene officers and police to “protect” illegal street hawkers in Mong Kok.
The bloody overnight confrontation between protesters and police lasted over 10 hours. A traffic policeman fired two live rounds into the air as he and his fellow were set upon by a violent mob.
The police force dismissed accusations of having insufficient equipment and manpower to handle the mob.
Lau said Emergency Unit teams with full gear were sent to the scene at midnight, and more officers were employed to suppress the crowd when the situation turned violent after 1.30am on Tuesday.
READ MORE: Inside Mong Kok – Hong Kong’s simmering melting pot where passions can boil over
The security chief said there were over 700 rioters scattered on at least 14 streets in Mong Kok at midnight on Tuesday. Fires were set in 22 different locations, and 2,000 bricks were dug out of 110 square metres of pavement.
Lai once again condemned the violence of the mobs and slammed protesters and politicians for taking hawkers’ problems and dissatisfaction with the government administration as an excuse for the riot so as to “switch [the] focus of the incident”.
Health minister Ko Wing-man said health officers arrived in Mong Kok after receiving 200 complaints against illegal hawkers doing business there.
He emphasised that the officers were only patrolling the streets and did not give any warnings or clear away any hawkers that night. Officers called police for help after being surrounded and attacked by 50 people.
READ MORE: Mong Kok riot: how Hong Kong’s first night in the Year of the Monkey descended into mayhem
Earlier on Tuesday, the city’s chief executive said that the truth behind the street violence that erupted in Mong Kok last week will be revealed by a police investigation and a court hearing.
Leung Chun-ying’s remarks came a day after the government officially rejected calls by hundreds of academics and professionals for an independent committee to identify the causes of the riot in Mong Kok last Monday.
The committee proposed by the academics and professionals would have been similar to one that was set up after the unrest in Hong Kong in 1966, a year before the 1967 riot.
“The police force will conduct a thorough and in-depth investigation and present the evidence to the court,” said Leung, speaking ahead of the weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday.
“People could have a grasp of the incident’s background through the public hearing.”
The city’s chief claimed his administration had already significantly improved the livelihoods of the poor over the past few years.
“Anyone, regardless of whatever difficulties encountered, should never reflect his or her demands via illegal and violent means,” Leung said.
When asked if he was turning a blind eye to existing social grievances, Leung argued that one should not exaggerate the significance of the violent acts of the 60 or so rioters as they did not represent Hong Kong society or the city’s youngsters.
The chaos resulted in nearly 130 people being wounded, including five journalists and more than 90 police officers.
At least 68 people have been arrested so far, and about 40 of them have been charged with rioting or taking part in an unlawful assembly