A teenage protester has been convicted after bringing a laser pointer, a modified umbrella and a hiking pole to a protest in September.

Magistrate So Wai-tak on Thursday found the 16-year-old guilty of one count of possessing offensive weapons in a public place, and a count of possessing offensive weapons with intent. The defendant will be remanded in custody to await sentencing on November 25, as the court seeks reports on whether he is suitable for detention.

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File photo: May James/HKFP.

The case marks the first time that a Hong Kong court has criminalised the possession of a laser pointer in the context of offensive weapons. Since the pro-democracy movement began in June, protesters have often shone laser pointers at police officers and surveillance cameras during clashes.

The defendant was arrested near Tuen Mun MTR station on September 21 and, during a body search, police officers found a laser pointer, a modified umbrella, a hiking pole, a helmet and protective gear.

So said the definition of a laser pointer does not fall under “offensive weapon,” but accepted the prosecution’s expert evidence that it can cause damage to a person’s eyes and skin. The magistrate ruled that the defendant had the intent to use it against the police or others, based on where he was and the objects he was carrying.

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Senior Superintendent Steve Li shows off a modified umbrella used by a protester. File photo: Stand News.

“There would be no need to bring a laser pointer or protective gear, if the defendant only wanted to express his views peacefully,” So said, according to Stand News.

The defendant also convicted over possessing an umbrella with a 47-centimetre-long stem which would protrude when opened. A 55-centimetre-long hiking pole was also hidden inside the umbrella when it was closed.

So rejected the defence argument that the umbrella was “broken,” saying that it was “deliberately modified” so that the teenager could attack police while hiding behind it, or by throwing the metal-tipped poles.

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File photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

The defendant was previously charged with “possessing an instrument fit for unlawful purposes,” but the magistrate exercised his power under section 27 of the Magistrates Ordinance to amend the charges so they related to offensive weapons.

Lawyer argues against jail

On Thursday, the defence argued that the teenager should be given a lighter sentence, as he had already spent seven weeks in custody and had “learnt his lesson.” The teen felt remorse that his case caused a lot of trouble for his 72-year-old father, the lawyer added.

Raised in a single-parent household, the defendant also suffered from dyslexia which affected his grades, according to his lawyer. Cardinal Joseph Zen, and pro-democracy lawmakers Eddie Chu and Roy Kwong were among those who wrote letters to the court asking for leniency.

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Democratic Party lawmaker James To. Photo: inmediahk.net.

Commenting on the verdict, Democratic Party lawmaker James To said he was “very worried” that the case could lead to excessive prosecution.

“It is very dangerous for the magistrate to deduce a person had an intent to attack someone else using a non-offensive weapon, simply because that person possesses protective gear,” To said. “Following this logic, a person can also be accused of using a helmet to ‘hit’ other people.”

To criticised the police for over-using the charge of “possessing an instrument fit for unlawful purposes,” because they were unable to prove that a laser pointer was an offensive weapon under the law. Thursday’s ruling may embolden the police to use the charge more frequently, he added.

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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.