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In Taiwan, police scramble to explain ban on masks for protesters

Article 14 of Assembly and Parade Act puts restrictions on 'any disguising that might make personal identification difficult'

In Taiwan, police scramble to explain ban on masks for protesters

(AP photo)

Police authorities in Taiwan were busy Sunday trying to clarify a comment a day earlier suggesting that Taiwan would enforce an anti-mask law similar to the one being carried out in Hong Kong to deter widespread protests.

Taiwan's police will not forbid all participants in public assemblies from wearing masks and will only check on a select few based on tips or intelligence, said National Police Agency (NPA) Director-General Chen Ja-chin (陳家欽) on Sunday.

Article 14 of the Assembly and Parade Act stipulates that related authorities "shall put necessary restrictions" on "any disguising that might make personal identification difficult," Chen said, in effect prohibiting the use of masks.

It does not mean, however, that police will ban every assembly participant from wearing a mask or another disguise, Chen explained.

Police will only check on participants who, based on tips, could be a potential threat to the rally, he said.

Chen's comments were a response to remarks made Saturday by Taipei Police Commissioner Chen Jia-chang (陳嘉昌), who pledged during a city council session that his department would put the law into practice for the safety of all rally participants.

His pledge raised concerns that Taiwan is going down the same road as Hong Kong, which imposed the ban to more easily identify and arrest protesters.

Demonstrators in Hong Kong have worn masks to hide their identities, in part to avoid arrest and face Hong Kong's draconian "riot" laws but also to avoid having their identities known and pressure put on their employers to take action against them.

In a separate statement Sunday, Taipei police said they would not forbid all assembly participants from wearing masks, though acknowledging it was still against the law to do so.

The statement said police will first inform the rally or demonstration organizers when it discovers people wearing masks at such an event and will not intervene unless the organizers are unable to persuade mask wearers to remove their masks and ask for the police's assistance.

Taipei police will continue to protect people's rights to freedom of assembly while maintaining order at such events, the statement pledged.

According to the statement, the city's police department said its chief made his comments Saturday because of an incident in which Hong Kong singer-activist Denise Ho (何韻詩) was sprayed with paint by a suspect wearing a mask before a pro-Hong Kong democratic movement rally in downtown Taipei on Sept. 29.