Cops fire tear gas to disperse crowd protesting arrest of student leader over laser pointers

An off-duty officer (left) examines a laser pointer during the arrest of student leader Keith Fong (center) in Sham Shui Po on Tuesday night. Screengrab via RTHK video.
An off-duty officer (left) examines a laser pointer during the arrest of student leader Keith Fong (center) in Sham Shui Po on Tuesday night. Screengrab via RTHK video.

Authorities fired tear gas in Sham Shui Po last night to disperse a crowd of people who had gathered at a police station to protest the arrest of a student union leader who was hauled in on weapons charges for possessing laser pointers.

Keith Fong, president of the Hong Kong Baptist University Students’ Union, was arrested at around 7pm yesterday on Ap Liu Street in Sham Shui Po, after men later identified as off-duty police officers found he was carrying 10 laser pointers.

In video from the scene, Fong can be heard saying he bought the laser pointers for stargazing. He is later seen being taken to the hospital after complaining of feeling unwell.

Chief Inspector Chow Hok-yin, from the organized crime and triad bureau, held a press conference last night in which he said Fong was stopped after leaving a store in Sham Shui Po for looking “suspicious.”

A search turned up 10 of what Chow characterized as “laser guns,” and Fong was arrested on suspicion of “possessing offensive weapons.”

Hong Kong law defines an “offensive weapon” as “any article made, or adapted for use, or suitable, for causing injury to [a] person,” and reporters last night were quick to question how run-of-the-mill laser pointers fit that definition.

Chow maintained that as long as the laser pointer was used to attack someone, the police force would regard it as an offensive weapon. At recent protests, demonstrators have shone laser pointers to thwart CCTV cameras and annoy officers, some of whom Chow said had been affected by the beams.

After word of the arrest spread, people started gathering at the Shum Shui Po police station at around 10pm. Police issued warnings that the gathering was an unlawful assembly, and stared firing tear gas to disperse the crowd at around 11:20pm.

Police also urged locals and reporters on a nearby footbridge to leave the scene, with residents responding by asking whether police had imposed a curfew, Ming Pao reports.

The crowd dispersed after 1am.

The Students’ Unions of Higher Institutions, meanwhile, issued a statement last night “strongly condemn[ing] the Police for fabricating a charge in order to arrest innocent persons arbitrarily,” and demanding Fong’s immediate release.

Pro-dem lawmaker James To, himself a lawyer, also questioned the appropriateness of the charge on an RTHK program, saying that the intent to injure is a central element of the weapons charge, and asking how police could discern Fong’s intent before any crime had been committed.

Police have sharply stepped up their response to protests in the last few days, arresting nearly 150 people and firing 800 rounds of tear gas on Monday alone during long-running clashes with protesters.

Protesters are now calling for a protest in Sham Shui Po on Aug. 11 in response.

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