Hong Kong official leaflet warns anyone wearing a mask could be ‘suspicious person’ – despite city-wide Covid mask mandate

Hong Kong authorities have issued an information leaflet to the public on how to spot a potential ‘suspicious person’, including being wary of anyone wearing a mask, which is a legal mandate in the territory under Covid laws.

The pamphlet, distributed to the public, explains how to spot a “suspicious person”. One key indicator of a “suspicious person”, according to the leaflet, is someone who is “wearing outfit (eg cap, mask or gloves) that conceals identity”. It is illustrated with a drawing of a person in a black coat, wearing a blue surgical mask.

However, Hong Kong, which is experiencing its first major Covid surge, requires everyone to wear a mask in public at all times in a bid to curb rising cases, which have seen hospital and morgues overwhelmed in recent weeks.

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Mask wearing has also been common in Hong Kong even before the pandemic, with many people previously opting to wear one if they have a cold and are travelling on public transport or working from an office.

The leaflet explains how to identify a "suspicious person".The leaflet explains how to identify a "suspicious person".
The leaflet explains how to identify a "suspicious person".

Anyone found to not be wearing a mask in both indoor and outdoor public places, or on public transport, could be fined $10,000 (£972).

One Hong Kong resident wrote on Twitter: “Hong Kong is out with a whole package of new anti-terrorism pamphlets and flyers. One giveaway of a suspicious person is wearing a mask, which is odd because it is illegal not to wear one at the moment.”

Another added: “That is literally the most common colour of Covid mask.”

The leaflet also suggests anyone who is wearing clothes which are not “commensurate with the weather” could also be deemed as suspicious.

It said: “Although there are no specific rules for identifying a suspicious person, the following factors can be taken into account.”

Other “suspicious” signifiers, according to the leaflet, include anyone carrying “abnormally big or heavy items” and someone carrying a weapon.

It also adds someone who is expressing violence, taking video or pictures of CCTV cameras or “loitering at the same location without legitimate reasons”, could also be deemed suspicious.

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The issuing of the leaflet comes as Hong Kong’s leader rejected claims the city’s judiciary was losing its independence after two British judges resigned from the courts in the semi-autonomous territory, citing increasingly oppressive laws enacted by mainland China.

Chief executive Carrie Lam said she accepted the resignations announced on Wednesday, but insisted “the rule of law has remained as robust as ever”.

“The whole thing is a political arrangement,” Ms Lam said.

“It is totally clear to all, that the British government officials and British politicians have used these means to damage our much-respected independent judicial system, and I feel that this is very regrettable.”

British judges have sat on the Court of Final Appeal since Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, as part of efforts to safeguard the rule of law.

But the UK and other Western nations say China has reneged on its promise to retain Hong Kong’s own social, legal and political systems for 50 years amid an intense crackdown on the city’s institutions following sweeping anti-government protests in 2019.

Those efforts included passage of the National Security Law in 2020 and changes to the electoral system that have effectively ended political opposition in the territory.

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