A police officer conducts a demonstration of a laser pointer by aiming it at a piece of paper until it was scorched and emitted smoke, at a press conference on Wednesday. Photo: HK China News Agency

The police force insists that the arrest of a university student leader for possession of offensive weapons after he was found carrying laser pointers was justified, but some legal professionals think otherwise.

Explaining the arrest at a press conference on Wednesday, Senior Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah of the Police Organised Crime and Triad Bureau said what officers found in the suspect’s plastic bag were “laser guns” that “can emit a very high level of energy which can burn paper in a very short period of time”, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

“From all our experience during the last two months, our officers have from time to time been attacked by the laser beams, the high energy ones, and some of them have received medical treatment and still [need to be] followed up in hospital,” Li said, referring to the laser pointers that protesters use during confrontations with the police.

Keith Fong Chung-yin, president of the Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) Students’ Union who is majoring in European Studies (French Stream), was arrested in Sham Shui Po on Tuesday night by several off-duty police officers, who accused him of possessing offensive weapons.

The union, however, said in a statement that Fong was buying the laser pointers to use for star-gazing. Online video footage circulating on social media showed Fong telling officers several times that the laser pointers were for star-gazing when he was arrested.

The incident soon enraged students from the HKBU and other local tertiary institutions, which issued a joint statement demanding Fong’s immediate release.

According to Li, the officers found Fong acting suspiciously as he lingered on the street, and when they approached him, he tried to run away.

The officers then reportedly found 10 laser pointers in his plastic bag and arrested him for possessing offensive weapons.

As to what the officers were doing at the scene before they made the arrest, RTHK quoted Li as saying: “As everybody knows, many things were happening in the past couple of days in Sham Shui Po.”

As such, the officers decided to take action against Fong, whose identity they did not know at the time.

At the press conference, police also conducted a demonstration of a laser pointer by aiming it at a piece of paper until it was scorched and emitted smoke.

The “high-energy” pointer was one of those seized from Fong, police said.

Asked about the actual power of each of the seized “laser guns”, Li said he had no knowledge as it was not indicated on the label and they had not been tested in a government laboratory at the time.

Laboratory tests would be conducted later to determine their strength, police said.

Eric Cheung Tat-ming, principal lecturer at the Department of Law of the University of Hong Kong, said Fong may be prosecuted if the device was used to attack someone that night.

But when Fong was intercepted, no protest was taking place, Cheung said, adding that the laser pen or pointer was multi-functional.

As such, the reasonable doubt that police were claiming as basis for the arrest was hardly legally justified, he said.

Barrister Billy Li On-yin, convener of the Progressive Lawyers’ Group, criticized the police for trying to create a public impression or opinion on the incident, namely that the police were right in apprehending Fong.

That’s tantamount to making a judgment before any trial, which may prevent the court from conducting a fair trial.

(Article originally appeared in EJ Insight on 8 August 2019)