A Hong Kong judge spared a teenager hard labour at a detention facility for carrying a laser pointer to a 2019 protest, after finding that he had reflected on his behaviour during the protracted legal proceedings despite having maintained his innocence throughout.
The 17-year-old student, a candidate for an undergraduate law programme at the University of Hong Kong, won an appeal at the High Court on Friday against a six-month detention order by a magistrate over his offence during a citywide anti-government demonstration on November 11, 2019.
Mr Justice Albert Wong Sung-hau instead ordered the student to undergo 200 hours of community service, noting the case had dragged on for more than two years with the teenager spending a total of nine weeks behind bars awaiting the final outcome of his case.
The student, identified only by the initials of his English name CC, was found guilty at Sha Tin Juvenile Court last year of possession of an offensive weapon with intent when he was 15.
He was intercepted in Mong Kok along with two men and a woman in the early morning near the junction of Nathan Road and Argyle Street, several blocks from a makeshift roadblock erected by protesters in the wake of online calls to stage demonstrations and paralyse traffic across the city.
Wearing an all-black outfit, the boy was found with a laser pointer and protective equipment commonly associated with the protests: a gas mask, pair of goggles, balaclava, mask and a pair of gloves.
Magistrate Norton Pang Leung-ting ruled the student had carried the pointer potentially to shine laser beams in the eyes of law enforcement officers and people holding different political views.
The student won bail pending an appeal in the High Court after spending six weeks at Sha Tsui Correctional Institution on Lantau Island last year. He spent another three weeks in another detention facility earlier this year awaiting an array of presentencing reports.
Delivering his judgment on Friday, Wong dismissed the student’s request to set aside his conviction after finding the magistrate’s ruling was supported by ample evidence.
Although the judge found the magistrate was entitled to impose a term of hard labour on the defendant, he said the case warranted an “exceptional” disposal having regard to the time the student had spent in incarceration.
He also noted the Correctional Services Department, which initially recommended a detention order, no longer insisted on that option in its latest assessment of the teen.
“In considering whether a community service order should be imposed, the court places particular weight on whether the offender displays a sufficient level of remorse,” Wong said.
“Indeed, the appellant has pleaded not guilty and filed an appeal against his conviction, but in light of the latest reports, it appears that he has reflected on his behaviour having been ‘baptised’ with the tide of time and gone through these legal procedures.”
Possession of an offensive weapon or instrument fit for unlawful purposes with intent is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment.