The Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, has dismissed criticism that Hong Kong's new anti-mask law has failed to curb the ongoing anti-government protests.
Lam invoked emergency powers on Friday and imposed the ban on masks during public assemblies, but mass protests broke out as soon as she made the announcement. Protests continued in various parts of the city for three consecutive days over the long weekend, with people wearing face masks in open defiance of the new law.
But the CE told reporters that it takes time for a new law to be effective. She also appealed to people to exercise their “common sense and rationality” and abide by the city's laws.
“It’s too early to say that the anti-mask law is not effective. For any new policy or new legislation, it would take time for it to be implemented," she said.
"But please allow me to reiterate that if we’re so proud of Hong Kong being a city that upholds and safeguards the rule of law, one important component is a law-abiding population. We need the people of Hong Kong to respect the law."
"So if a piece of legislation has been enacted but people refuse to abide by the law, then of course we have a problem at hand. But I would appeal to the common sense and rationality of Hong Kong people that it is the time to observe the law,” she said.
She reiterated that the government hopes the new ban could deter protesters, especially underage ones, who think they can violate the law when masked.
She pointed out that more students had been taking part in the protests since classes resumed last month, noting that the latest figures show 10 percent of those arrested on Sunday were under the age of 15.
Lam also rejected criticism made by Hong Kong's last governor, Chris Patten, about her introduction of the mask ban, saying it was “malicious”.
Patten said Lam "would have to be crazy" to have made her recent decisions on her own without being pressured into them.
The CE said she hoped foreign politicians could look at what’s been happening in Hong Kong in an objective manner, as the city has been under unprecedented attacks.
She questioned what foreign governments and politicians would do if similar "riots" broke out in their countries and said it's "irresponsible" for anyone to support the violent protesters and describe them as peaceful.
Responding to complaints that a police officer asked a journalist to remove his mask when tear gas was fired in Wan Chai on Sunday, Lam said there was bound to be “complications and misunderstandings” when enforcing the new ban.
The CE said she would ask her colleagues to look into the matter and see how to strike a balance between enforcing the law and allowing journalists to carry out their duties.
The new law exempts people who wear masks for religious, medical or work purposes.