A Hong Kong teenager who admitted hurling a petrol bomb in Yau Ma Tei and possessing materials for making the bombs has been sent to a detention centre rather than prison after the judge credited him with “bravely” admitting his mistakes. 

Secondary student Lau Chi-hei, 17, appeared for sentencing before Deputy District Judge Peter Hui on Friday. He pleaded guilty earlier this month. 

File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The sentencing in the district court case was held at West Kowloon Law Courts.

Lau was among five people accused of throwing Molotov cocktails at the intersection of Jordan Road and Kansu Street late on February 4, 2020. 

The teenager was arrested inside a room at the Casa Deluxe Hotel in the early hours of the following day. In the room, police found nine petrol bombs, a bottle of inflammable and corrosive liquid, petrol, liquified petroleum gas and other items. 

In handing down the sentence, Hui said the offences were serious and required a custodial punishment. But he agreed with the defence that Lau was not a “mastermind” or a “key figure” in the case, as he was the youngest among his co-defendants – the oldest one being 27.

Representing Lau, barrister Kalvin Chan had argued that his client – who was 16 at the time of his arrest – was “easier to manipulate” by others because of his youth. The lawyer had told the court that Lau made no searches online about petrol bombs, nor was there any discussion on the division of labour before the incident. It was not an “intricate” plan, he said.

The Casa Deluxe Hotel in Yau Ma Tei. File photo: Google Maps screenshot.

The court agreed with Chan’s previous submission that the offences took place at a time when Hong Kong’s social atmosphere was “a lot more stable,” compared to the citywide protests sparked off by an ill-fated extradition bill in 2019. There was no need to impose a heavy deterrent sentence, Chan said.

The defence also submitted numerous mitigation letters from his school principal, teachers, social workers, church representatives and friends. They described the defendant as being good-natured and said his conduct and academic performance had improved in the past year.

The barrister asked the court to send his client to a detention centre – an alternative to imprisonment for male offenders aged 14 to 24 – so that the student may return to school in the next academic year. Lau’s school has reserved a spot for him, Chan said. 

Protest scenes in Hong Kong in 2019. Photo: Studio Incendo.

Judge Hui remarked that Lau’s offence did was not the most severe compared to cases of the same nature, saying immediate imprisonment was not necessary.

“[Lau] bravely admitted [his mistakes] and is willing to bear the consequence. He did not give up on his studies and he deserves to be given a chance,” the deputy judge said.

Dressed in a black hoodie and wearing a fresh buzz cut, Lau waved and nodded at his family, friends and supporters in the courtroom. His vice-principal and teachers also attended the sentencing hearing. 

“All of his hair got shaved off,” Lau’s mother murmured. 

As Lau was led away by correctional officers, the crowds chanted: ” Take care of yourself!”

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.