A vocational school student has pleaded guilty to nine animal cruelty offences in Hong Kong for running an online business out of sacrificing animals by purporting the rituals could help mend broken relationships. West Kowloon Court heard on Monday that Tong Cheuk-him had earned about HK$118,600 (US$15,110) for performing “violent and cruel” ceremonies with small animals such as mice, rabbits and frogs between July 25 and August 11 last year. The 19-year-old was pursuing a sports science diploma at VTC Youth College when he began learning “witchcraft” on social media a year before the offences. He set up an Instagram account in early August 2021 to promote his trade. Tong had offered two types of services: the love ritual and the break-up ritual. The former involved slashing small animals with a knife and draining their blood to improve the client’s luck in romance. The latter was carried out under similar procedures, but with the aim of putting a curse on a specific couple at the client’s wishes. A businessman and animal welfare supporter filed a complaint to police after learning that Tong had sacrificed animals for a return of no less than HK$15,000 for each rite. Buying purebred dogs and cats from pet shops and online is wrong Police arrested Tong in a sting operation at Tsuen Wan West MTR station on August 11 last year. Officers seized from him a rabbit, five mice, a 26cm dagger and tools linked to the rituals, such as amulets, incense and tarot cards. The student told police he had received six to seven requests since he began advertising his business on social media. He recalled decapitating a mouse and stabbing two frogs in their heads in two rituals in early August, where he received a total of HK$20,000 from two unknown women. Messaging logs on Tong’s mobile phone revealed the student had killed animals at the requests of five others, who were either seeking to start over with their former partners or wishing the new relationships of their exes would turn sour. Police subsequently tracked down three women – saleslady Kwok Wan-hei, 29, beautician Lau Wing-ki, 32, and beauty salon receptionist Choi Ching-ning, 25 – and accused them of taking part in a conspiracy to hurt animals. A fourth client, 23-year-old Wong Chun-yin, fled the city in October last year before officers could hunt him down. The remaining suspect’s identity remains unknown as the person had contacted Tong using a prepaid SIM card. Hong Kong cat owner guilty of animal cruelty for ‘prank’ but court returns pet Tong pleaded guilty on Monday to two counts of cruelly ill-treating animals, one of attempting to do so and six of conspiracy to commit the offence. Choi pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges, whereas Kwok and Lau asked for extra time to consider their pleas. In mitigation, Tong’s legal counsel Brian Tsui Ho-chuen said the student was under the misguided belief that offering animal sacrifices was nothing more than a religious ceremony akin to “worshipping gods with chickens and ducks”. Tsui urged the court to sentence his client to correctional training at a rehabilitation centre, where the student is now serving time for taking part in an unlawful assembly in a 2019 protest. Magistrate Andy Cheng Lim-chi dismissed the notion that Tong committed the offences out of a benign motive, noting that he had taken advantage of his clients’ relationship problems for monetary gain. “The method used to kill the animals was brutal, violent and gory,” Cheng said. “A civilised society will not tolerate the taking of small animals’ lives.” The magistrate called for an array of assessment reports on Tong and Choi ahead of sentencing on June 14. He also asked the other two defendants to answer their respective allegations on July 20. Animal cruelty is punishable by up to three years in prison under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance.