Journalist charged with ‘possession of ammunition’ for picking up spent tear gas rounds for research

A protester throws bricks at the police after they fired tear gas in Wong Tai Sin during a general strike in Hong Kong on August 5, 2019, as simultaneous rallies were held across seven districts. Photo by Isaac Lawrence / AFP
A protester throws bricks at the police after they fired tear gas in Wong Tai Sin during a general strike in Hong Kong on August 5, 2019, as simultaneous rallies were held across seven districts. Photo by Isaac Lawrence / AFP

A reporter has been formally charged with possession of ammunition for collecting spent tear gas rounds, grenade fragments, rubber bullets, and sponge rounds — all of which are routinely left behind by the hundreds without a second thought by police during protest clearance operations.

RTHK reports that Chow Man, 26, was stopped by officers at Sai Wan Ho MTR station on Monday, Nov. 18. Documents presented to Eastern Magistrates’ Court said that Chow’s collection included 40 pieces of spent ammunition, such as tear gas rounds, sponge grenades, rubber bullets, and cartridge casings.

Chow gave his occupation as reporter — although it’s not clear if he worked for an outlet or is a freelancer — and told the court that he was collecting the spent ammunition for research.

At the request of the prosecution, the magistrate decided to postpone the case until Jan. 14 pending police tests on the used ammunition.

Chow wasn’t required to enter a plea, but his application for bail was refused and he’ll be remanded in custody.

However, the law is unclear as to whether already-spent rounds — which have become common sights as the city’s protests intensified — constitute “ammunition.”

According to the Firearms and Ammunition Ordinance, possession of arms or ammunition without a license carries a maximum fine of HK$100,000 (US$12,800) and 14 years in jail.

The law defines ammunition in the usual sense, as bullets and cartridges for use in firearms and other types of guns (such as airguns, among others), but also says that shell casings and any “shot, bullet, missile or any other part of an article which constitutes ammunition” are also considered to be in contravention of the law.

But, confusingly, the following section outlining exceptions notes that any “shot, bullet, missile, used or empty shell case or cartridge case, or any other part of an article which constitutes ammunition” is not considered in contravention of the law if it is “used only as an article of personal, household, or office adornment.”

In other words, a shell casing is illegal, but a shell casing used as decoration isn’t.

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CITY: HONG KONGCATEGORY: NEWSSUB-CATEGORIES: CRIME, POLITICSTAGS:

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