Oct. 4 (UPI) -- Hong Kong banned the wearing of masks in public on Friday as the embattled government attempts to quell escalating protests that have destabilized the semi-autonomous region.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam implemented the ban through colonial-era emergency powers that have not been invoked since 1967.
"It was not an easy decision," she said. "But based on the current situation, it is a necessary one."
The ban requires people at protests, rallies or marches -- government-sanctioned or otherwise -- to remove full or partial facial coverings including masks and paint at risk of being arrested and sentenced to one year in prison and fined $3,187.
The ban, which goes into effect at midnight Friday, will prevent people from wearing face coverings in order to restore order with exemptions in place for those with "legitimate needs to wear a mask," such as health or religious reasons, Lam said.
The measure follows the most violent weekend yet in the monthslong protest when a high school student was shot in the chest by a police officer. He was taken to the hospital and was in stable condition after undergoing surgery.
Hong Kong has been submerged in protests since early June as protesters fought against a now-shelved extradition bill but the movement has evolved into a wider pro-democracy call following instances of alleged police brutality.
Lam said violence has escalated since the protests began four months ago with over 1,100 people injured, including 300 police officers, during the 400 demonstrations.
She said that from June to August, students accounted for 25 percent of all arrests, but that number jumped to 38 percent in September when schools opened for the season, she offered as an example of the escalation in violence.
What started out as people shouting at police has turned into assaults and the use of lethal weapons, she said.
"Public order is in a dangerous state," she said. "The violence is destroying Hong Kong."
She said the ban is to restore public order through preventing those who would use violence and damage buildings from doing so anonymously and she hopes the public supports and understands the ban.
"Let Hong Kong go back to the normal Hong Kong," she said.
She said when the regulation is determined to be no longer needed, it can be repealed.
Asked if the ban fails what will she do to quell the protests, she said as a "responsible government" they will continue to "identify other means to tackle the situation."
"We want to send a very strong message to society," Lam said.
Joshua Wong, secretary-general of activist organization Demosisto, criticized Lam during her press conference by quoting Matthew 6:24 from the Bible.
"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other," Wong wrote on Twitter. "Carrie lam has made her choice. Her loyalty [is] to Beijing.
Activist group Civil Human Rights Front called the ban "a colonial evil law" that gives Lam "supreme power" to suppress the public.