A 16-year-old student has become the first to be convicted of possessing a laser pointer at the anti-government protests that have rocked Hong Kong for months.
Passing his verdict on Thursday, West Kowloon acting chief magistrate So Wai-tak ruled the device – widely used by demonstrators in the city against police officers – was not an offensive weapon in itself, but could amount to one depending on the circumstances and intent.
Finding the boy guilty of two offences near a protest site on September 21, he said: “It [the use of the laser pointer] was meant to harm the eyes of police officers, causing them discomfort.”
The teenager, whose identity has been withheld for legal reasons, landed himself in the dock after the then 15-year-old was intercepted by a police officer near the bus terminal at Tuen Mun MTR station that day.
A body search found him carrying a laser pointer, a modified umbrella and a hiking stick.
An anti-government protest was under way and the boy was seen walking up and down along a police cordon with the umbrella shortly before his arrest.
So found him guilty of one count of possessing offensive weapons in a public place and another of possessing offensive weapons with intent, for having those items on him. The magistrate based his conclusion on circumstantial evidence.
When the boy was searched, he was also found with a helmet, alongside other protective gear, So said.
“If he intended to take part in a peaceful assembly, there was no need to bring anything to protect himself from bodily contact,” the magistrate said, adding that was especially the case for a laser pointer.
An expert testified earlier during the trial that a laser pointer could cause harm if it was aimed at someone’s eyes from a close distance and for a sufficient length of time.
“There was no reason to point it at a building or a person’s body,” So found.
His defence lawyer previously complained that police had interviewed the boy without his parents’ presence. But the magistrate dismissed the issue, saying he was only asked preliminary questions at the time.
The umbrella in the boy’s possession was adapted so the top of it was sticking out, according to the prosecutors, while the hiking pole, found inside the closed umbrella during the search, had its handle removed to reveal a metallic end.
So rejected the boy’s suggestion the umbrella was merely broken and was meant to be used to shield the sun.
“Why not throw it away if it was indeed the case?” he said, calling it an “excuse”. “And why was there a hiking stick inside it?”
The only explanation, the magistrate said, was the boy had carried the umbrella so he could attack others, including police, and hide behind it. The hiking stick could be hurled at others, he said.
Before the verdict was read out, So had to amend the wording for one of the charges – “possessing an instrument fit for unlawful purposes” – because he found that a laser pointer did not fit the description of the offence, which referred to tools for committing break-ins.
He amended it to “possessing offensive weapons with intent” and gave the boy and his lawyers a chance to supplement their case before he handed down his ruling.
In mitigation, defence counsel Peter Chiu Ka-ming said the boy, from a single-parent family, was a polite and good student. He said the student suffered from dyslexia which had affected his academic performance.
The boy’s class teacher prompted pro-democracy legislators Eddie Chu Hoi-dick and Roy Kwong Chun-yu and cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun to write letters on his behalf in mitigation, his lawyers revealed.
“It was only under extraordinary circumstances that a teenager at the age of 15 or 16 would have done such an act,” Chiu added, referring to the anti-government protests which have entered their 22nd week.
What started out as peaceful protests triggered by the now-withdrawn extradition bill in June has developed into a wider anti-government movement, with increasingly violent clashes between police and protesters.
Chiu said the boy had been remanded into custody since his arrest in September. He urged the magistrate to impose a jail sentence that could be offset by that period, which would guarantee his immediate release.
So remanded the boy and asked for reports on him to study the feasibility of sending him to youth facilities, such as detention centre, before sentencing on November 25.
The laser devices, which are popular among protesters, came under scrutiny in summer over whether they should be classified as offensive weapons.
Police said they were dangerous, but the targeting of those carrying the devices provoked outrage among many members of the anti-government movement.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kan-sun expressed concern over the ruling, fearing it could lead to police abusing the prosecuting process.
“The magistrate’s version is dangerous in that he derives one’s intent to attack others with an non-offensive weapon from his possession of objects used to defend himself,” he said.
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