12 US states and 7 countries that have barred protesters from wearing masks
James Pasley,James PasleyOct 8, 2019, 03:05 IST
Masked up members of Anonymous.Pictures Ltd. / Corbis / Getty
On Friday, October 4, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced protesters were banned from wearing face masks, as she tried to deter violent protests that have been going on for four months.
Hong Kong isn't the only place to have banned masks at demonstrations. It's happened in the United States in response to tenant farmers back in 1845, and in the 20th Century in response to the Klu Klux Klan in the US.
On Friday, Hong Kong Leader Carrie Lam announced an immediate city-wide ban on protesters wearing face masks.
She said it had to be done, because most of the protesters vandalizing the city were doing it with their faces covered. The ability to hide their identity meant protesters could evade the law and act more daring, she said.
In America, anti-mask laws have existed for more than 150 years. In New York, in 1845, a law was passed that made it illegal for a gathering of two or more people in public to wear a mask or cover their face to disguise their identity.
Laws banning masks were also passed in direct response to the Klu Klux Klan. In Alabama, it's been illegal since 1949 to wear a mask in public, except for celebrations like Mardi Gras or Halloween.
Until 1979, California had sweeping anti-mask laws. That changed when Iranian-Americans sued the state after the Iranian revolution. They argued the law put them in danger because they couldn't hide their identities while protesting against the new Iran leaders. They won, and the law was struck down.
In 2010, the District of Columbia banned protesters from wearing masks after 10 p.m. and without first notifying the police. It was enacted in response to protests by an animal rights group.
In Ohio, it's illegal for two or more people to wear "whitecaps, masks or other disguises," while committing some sort of offense.
In Florida, it's been illegal to wear a mask or hood to hide a person's face since 1951. But, according to Howard Finkelstein, a local public defender, the anti-masking laws were meant to stop the Klu Klux Klan and robberies. It was never meant for protesters.
In Georgia, it's been illegal to wear a mask since 1951, except on occasions like Halloween, dressing up for a production, or going to sports games.
In Massachusetts, it's illegal for anyone to disguise themselves to obstruct the law or intimidate police or civilians. People can be fined up to $500 and imprisoned for up to a year.
In Michigan, wearing a mask, or otherwise concealing one's identity to commit a crime, can lead to being put in prison for up to 93 days or being fined $500.
In North Carolina, it's illegal to wear a mask or hood that disguises someone, and intimidates or prevents others from going about with their days.
In North Dakota, in 2017, it was made illegal to wear a mask while committing a crime. The law was prompted by months of protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline.
In Virginia, masks are banned when they're worn to hide the person's identity, unless it's for a traditional holiday, necessary for the person's job, or medically required.
In West Virginia, masks are prohibited, except to dress up on holidays or for winter sports.
Outside of the US, Germany passed a law barring people from covering their face during demonstrations in 1985. But police aren't too strict on enforcement, and protesters manage to get past these laws by wearing sunglasses, scarves, and hats. Austria has a similar law.
In 2015, Spain passed a law that made wearing a mask a factor in choosing what offense the person had committed, and it could result in larger fines.
In 2013, Canada enacted a law that made it illegal for a protester to wear a mask or conceal their identity during a riot or unlawful gathering. If convicted, a masked protester could spend up to 10 years in prison.
In 2014, Ukraine quickly passed an anti-protest law, which included banning masks, but instead of weakening protests, as the government hoped, it led to a resurgence of violent riots.
Russia had also banned face masks at public gatherings, but in 2016 its Constitutional Court ruled that it was legal for people to cover their faces.
Australia doesn't have a nation-wide law banning masks, but in Melbourne demonstrators can be evicted from protests for wearing a mask.
In January 2019, France banned masks under what's known as the "anti-troublemakers" law. The ban came after months of violent "yellow vest" protests, which were triggered by French President Emmanuel Macron's economic policies.
Burkas have also been banned across Europe. Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Belgium, and Catalonia have imposed some form of ban to stop women from wearing burkas in public.
In October 2019, Hong Kong enacted its ban on masks. But instead of stopping protesters from wearing masks, it led to more protests.