Hong Kong police have released a student leader after arresting him over the purchase of laser pointers – a controversial move that sparked a violent protest in Sham Shui Po and a satirical rally in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Keith Fong, the leader of the Baptist University’s student union, was arrested on Tuesday in Sham Shui Po after officers saw him purchase 10 laser pointers. Officers said they found Fong “acting suspiciously” and arrested him for possession of offensive weapons.

keith fong arrest
Keith Fong being arrested. Photo: screenshots.

That evening, hundreds besieged the local police station as officers fired tear gas to disperse them. Protesters held their own “laser show” a day later at the Space Museum in Tsim Sha Tsui, in an attempt to ridicule the claim that laser pointers constituted weapons.

Fong was released unconditionally at around 6pm on Thursday, though he was still hospitalised due to a high fever. He is expected to meet the press on Friday to speak about his case.

According to Oriental Daily, police offered bail to Fong when he was close to being detained for 48 hours – the maximum time allowed for a person to be held without charge under Hong Kong law. Fong refused the conditions and police released him unconditionally.

The Baptist University Student Union also confirmed that police obtained a warrant to search Fong’s home on Thursday afternoon, shortly before he was released.

Second citizens’ press conference

Police on Wednesday attempted to justify the arrest of Fong by demonstrating the dangers of the laser pointers he bought – described by officers as “laser guns.” During the presentation, an officer shone a pointer at a piece of newspaper, causing it to emit smoke.

laser protest august 7 china extradition tsim sha tsui
Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

But the move turned the police force into a target of ridicule, with protesters challenging them to conduct similar demonstrations for rubber bullets, sponge bullets, tear gas and other crowd control weapons used during the summer’s anti-extradition law protests.

Masked protesters, who appeared at the second iteration of their Citizens’ Press Conference, said on Thursday that the demonstration was an “artificial setup” that could not yield any sound conclusions.

“However, we greatly appreciate the Hong Kong Police Force’s laudable attempt at pursuing the scientific method. Thus, we urge the police to also demonstrate the firing of sponge bullets, beanbag bullets and rubber bullet within a five-metre range, or the exposure to expired tear gas, in order to support their claim that their arsenal of weapons is indeed non-lethal,” said a spokesperson who gave her name as Natasha Lee.

keith fong laser gun police

Protesters also accused the police of mass arrests: not just arresting protesters, but also anyone who was at the scene of the clashes.

“Police often take advantage of the 48-hour custody period under Hong Kong law and resort to all sorts of verbal abuse against detainees, including threats and intimidation, to hang a sword over the heads of all Hong Kong citizens who merely wish to exercise the freedom of expression that is guaranteed under both domestic and international law,” the representatives said in a statement.

Question of evidence tampering

At their daily briefing for the press, Hong Kong police rejected the protesters’ demand for a live demonstration of weapons, saying that there has been sufficient testing by manufacturers.

Police representatives also repeatedly dodged questions on whether expired tear gas ammunition was used.

keith fong laser gun police
Demonstration of the ‘laser gun.’

Asked if the police acted appropriately during the laser pointer demonstration, Chief Superintendent John Tse said that the devices were unpowered when they were confiscated from Fong, and that the batteries were supplied by the police.

However, Tse defended the move, saying there was no way to know the power of the laser pointer unless batteries were inserted.

Senior Superintendent Steve Li previously admitted that police did not seek the Department of Justice’s legal opinion before going ahead with the demonstration, amid concerns their demonstration could interfere with the judicial process.

Asked about the impromptu “laser show” held at the Space Museum, the police said that a “visual inspection” showed that the laser pointers used there were of a “normal” variety, and police did not take action against participants because they did not harm anyone.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.