LAW & CRIME
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Hong Kong copyright bill

Hong Kong student caught with ‘smoke cakes’ near Legco protest given three-month jail term

Magistrate says deterrent sentence is necessary, but it’s ‘not the end of the world’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 February, 2017, 9:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 February, 2017, 9:59pm

An Open University student arrested near a Legislative Council protest against amendments to the copyright bill was sentenced to three months in jail on Wednesday for possessing 16 “smoke cakes”.

In passing judgment in Eastern Court, the magistrate emphasised the need for a sentence with a deterrent effect, but believed it was “not the end of the world” for the student.

Kwan Ka-hei, 21, who had spent the past fortnight behind bars, would be allowed to reunite with his family after a request for bail pending an appeal was granted. He had pleaded not guilty to a charge of possession of an explosive substance.

Hong Kong student arrested with ‘smoke bomb chemical’ at copyright rally was acting alone, police say

In mitigation, defence counsel Van Ma said she understood there were very limited sentencing options remaining after Kwan was deemed physically unfit for a detention centre programme.

She pleaded for a suspended imprisonment if a custodial sentence was required, claiming Kwan had already had a “scary experience” after being remanded over the past two weeks.

“Having his family and friends from the church to go through the difficult times with him would be better than imprisonment, as it was uncertain whether he would meet people with bad influence [in jail],” she added.

But deputy magistrate Jacky Ip Kai-leung disagreed.

“Whether he would be influenced is completely his personal choice. If everyone uses this as a reason, then no one should go [to jail],” he said.

Ip emphasised there must be special grounds for considering a suspended sentence, and he had exhausted all possible sentencing options.

Handing down a three-month jail term, Ip said he had to balance the interests of both Kwan and the public, stressing the smoke cakes could have caused great harm had they ended up in the wrong hands.

Referring to the length of the sentence, Ip said: “To put it bluntly, it’s not the end of the world.”

He also slammed Kwan for showing no remorse and even fabricating stories to cover up what he did.

A bail request was granted on condition that he observe a curfew and stay away from the Legislative Council and government headquarters in Tamar, Admiralty, while reporting to police every week.

On December 16, 2015, Kwan was stopped by police at the Admiralty Centre, a footbridge’s distance from the Legco complex where a crowd was gathering to protest against the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014. Critics had argued the bill could harm free speech on the internet.

In his backpack, officers found a kilogram of potassium chlorate – an ingredient that can be used to make smoke bombs – a balaclava, gloves and a lighter.