Hong Kong police groups are urging the city to impose curfews and invoke other powers under a controversial colonial era-emergency law, as Chief Executive Carrie Lam struggles to control escalating unrest.
Associations representing front-line officers and inspectors called on the government to take dramatic steps after the city suffered some of its worst violence on the National Day holiday on Tuesday.
Some pro-China lawmakers in Hong Kong also called on Wednesday for a ban on wearing masks at public gatherings, a move aimed at stopping protesters from hiding their identity.
Waves of rallies across the former British colony led to widespread clashes between protesters and police, with an officer shooting and wounding a demonstrator for the first time since unrest began almost four months ago. More protests are planned over the weekend in Hong Kong.
“In the face of such a massive series of rioting incidents, we cannot work alone without appropriate measures and support from the top level,” Junior Police Officers’ Association chairman Lam Chi-wai said in a statement.
Hong Kong’s powerful Public Order Ordinance – passed during a wave of leftist riots in 1967 – lets the government establish curfews and close areas from public access.
The Emergency Regulations Ordinance of 1922 goes further, allowing the chief executive to make “any regulations whatsoever” to ensure public security, including censorship, snap arrests and property searches and seizures.
While the Hong Kong and Chinese governments haven’t ruled out the use of such emergency powers, they’ve so far refrained from accessing them.
The US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which reports to the president and Congress, has warned Lam’s government that the “Emergency Regulations Ordinance or taking steps toward martial law in #HongKong is the wrong way to resolve the situation.”
The measures risk further inflaming public anger over what they see as eroding freedoms and dealing another blow to the city’s battered economy.
The Emergency Regulations Ordinance hasn’t been used in more than a half-century.
The government has also considered other steps, such as a law banning the wearing of face masks.
Protesters returned to the streets Wednesday to vent frustration over the shooting of an 18-year-old demonstrator a day earlier, occupying public spaces and vandalising train stations and mainland-linked businesses.
The injured protester, shot in the chest during a scuffle with riot police, is expected to survive.
The incident drew criticism from US lawmakers, who are considering legislation that could establish a high-profile annual review process for Hong Kong’s special trading status.