Russian man fined for trying to bring spent tear gas shells back to Russia from Hong Kong

West Kowloon Law Courts, where the case was heard. Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Wpcpey.
West Kowloon Law Courts, where the case was heard. Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Wpcpey.

A Russian man has been fined HK$3,000 (about US$383) for trying to leave Hong Kong with used tear gas shells and rubber bullet casings that he had hoped to bring back to Russia as souvenirs.

Ming Pao reports that 30-year-old Startsev Aleksandr picked up about seven pieces of spent ammunition, including four tear gas shells and three rubber bullet shell casings from a street in Mong Kok earlier this week.

Aleksandr on arrived at the airport on Wednesday afternoon, and asked staff if it was OK to carry the used shells in his luggage. Staffers called the police, and after a preliminary investigation, police arrested him and charged him with possessing ammunition without a license.

Aleksandr pleaded guilty during his court appearance at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court this afternoon.

In mitigation, the defense said that Aleksandr didn’t take part in the protests and just picked up the shells from the street because he wanted to keep them as a souvenir, and that he wasn’t aware of the laws surrounding ammunition in Hong Kong.

Though the law allows for a sentence of up to 14 years in prison, the magistrate decided to just hand Aleksandr a US$383 fine.

Others, however, haven’t been so lucky.

News of Aleksandr’s fine comes days after a journalist appeared in court also charged with possession of ammunition without a license. The journalist was stopped by officers at Sai Wan Ho, and was found with 40 pieces of spent ammunition, such as tear gas rounds, sponge grenades, rubber bullets, and cartridge casings.

Not only did the judge in the case reject that suspect’s application for bail, they also postponed his trial until mid-January.

What’s more, the law in question is less than clear on the subject of spent ammunition.

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.”

Indeed, it would appear that Aleksandr had merely wanted the shell casings for their decorative value — he reportedly told the judge he wanted to serve drinks out of them.

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