Hong Kong police on Wednesday defended the arrest of a student leader for possession of a laser pointer by holding an unusual demonstration to exhibit the potential dangers of the device when shone at officers.
Laser pens emit bright beams which protesters have used to block the vision of police officers on the front lines. Steve Li, senior superintendent of the Organised Crime & Triad Bureau, referred to the pointers as “laser guns.”
Baptist University Student Union leader Keith Fong was arrested for possession of offensive weapons on Tuesday night after he bought 10 laser pointers in Sham Shui Po.
The student union said Fong was buying the laser pointers to use for stargazing. According to the statement, Fong was startled after an officer nudged his shoulder, prompting him to flee. Police reportedly did not display their identification cards.
The press conference attracted a stream of questions from reporters who asked if the demonstration was a perversion of the course of justice. They said it could influence public perception of the device as dangerous which would be unfair to the defendant, who has yet to be charged and may face trial.
Li denied the police were perverting the course of justice and said they chose to give the demonstration after considering the public’s right to know the potential danger of laser beams.
“The court will handle it… I did not smear [Fong], I did not say what he would use them for. I am just telling you the power of this gun,” he said.
Li said the police did not consult the Department of Justice about the demonstration beforehand.
During the presentation, police officers used one of the laser pointers Fong had bought from a short distance. It burnt a piece of paper within seconds, causing smoke to emerge.
Li claimed such laser pointers were able to injure people’s eyes and skin, as well as damage cameras. The police also showed a video containing clips of protesters shining lasers at officers alongside online comments discussing the dangers of its beams.
When asked if the lasers could produce the same result from a long distance, Li said the damage would be minimised but asserted that he was not an expert on the topic.
Li said five off-duty police officers had bumped into Fong and saw he was buying the laser pointers.
“We cannot know if he had other intentions, but he used HK$4,200 to buy ten of these laser pointers,” he said.
When asked if the police would inexplicably begin to arrest people for buying large amounts of umbrellas and eggs – items often used at protests – Li said his personal opinion was that officers would not do so.
Stargazing rally organised
Shortly after Fong was arrested on Tuesday, protesters surrounded Sham Shui Po’s police station. Police said officers used around 20 rounds of tear gas to clear the area.
Nine people were arrested that night for unlawful assembly, obstruction of police officers and possession of offensive weapons.
‘Not offensive weapons’
In response, posters were shared online calling on the public to bring laser pointers to a stargazing rally at the Hong Kong Space Museum in Tsim Sha Tsui at 8pm on Wednesday.
The posters, which identified Wednesday as the traditional Chinese Valentine’s day, also said that student astronomy groups would teach the public how to stargaze.
“Laser pens are not offensive weapons,” one poster read.
Li said rally participants would not be arrested for using laser pointers while stargazing.