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Laser pointers for sale at a market in Sham Shui Po. Photo: Sam Tsang

Laser pointers are in the spotlight in Hong Kong’s protests and selling briskly. But are they ‘offensive weapons’ and can you be arrested for carrying one?

  • After student leader was detained for carrying the devices, protesters besieged a police station then arranged a ‘stargazing event’ the next day
  • Police demonstrate how laser beam can set sheet of paper alight, though Post unable to get same result using a laser pointer bought in Sham Shui Po

Laser pointers were selling fast in Sham Shui Po’s well-known electronics flea market on Wednesday, a day after a university student leader was arrested there for having several of the devices which the police branded “offensive weapons”.

Baptist University student union president Keith Fong Chung-yin was seized on Tuesday after spending HK$4,200 (US$535) on 10 laser pointers from a stall in Sham Shui Po’s Apliu Street. His arrest prompted hundreds to surround the nearby police station in protest.

Laser pointers emitting green and blue beams of light have been used widely in recent extradition bill protests, apparently to confuse police officers and deter passers-by from taking photographs that might help identify protesters.

Ahead of a “stargazing protest” in Tsim Sha Tsui on Wednesday, nine stalls in Apliu Street reported brisk sales of laser pointers. Some said stocks of larger laser pointers had sold out, but smaller laser pointers, which they called “stargazing pens”, were still on sale.
Laser pointer selling at a market had beams of only 1.6 milliwatts. Photo: Sam Tsang

“We only sell two types, and they are both only 1.6 milliwatts,” said one stall owner. “Of course, you don’t point it into people’s eyes.” He declined to say how many he had sold.

There were long queues in front of stalls selling laser pointers at about HK$60 apiece. Bigger ones with red beams were also available, at HK$150 each. The queues disappeared as the stalls ran out of stock.

To meet demand, one stall keeper was seen modifying torch lights by unscrewing the top layer of glass, which disperses light, to create a single, focused beam.

Other stall owners, who enthusiastically waved customers over and explained the difference between the laser pointers on sale, turned unfriendly when the Post approached them, apparently aware that laser pointers had become a sensitive subject.

Of course, you don’t point it into people’s eyes
Stall owner

Laser pointers remain available on e-commerce site Taobao.

Referring to the laser pointers as “laser guns”, police said three officers needed medical treatment after protesters pointed beams at them.

At a press conference on Wednesday, police demonstrated how a laser beam could set a sheet of paper on fire when used at close range. The Post was not able to get the same result using a 10cm laser pointer with an output range of 1-5 milliwatts bought from Apliu Street.
Nine stalls in Apliu Street in Sham Shui Po report brisk sales of laser pointers ahead of stargazing event in Tsim Sha Tsui on Wednesday evening. Photo: Sam Tsang

“Laser pointers, especially those with high power, can burn one’s skin and cause permanent injury to the eyes,” said Dr William Cheung Sing-wai, a former electrical engineering associate professor at the University of Hong Kong.

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He said laser pointers used by teachers had a power range of less than 1 milliwatt, but even those could cause an eye injury.

Senior Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau said “laser guns” were not considered prohibited weapons in the city.

Laser pointers have become the latest hot topic in Hong Kong’s ongoing protests. Photo: Sam Tsang

But he said the laser pointers seized by police breached the Trade Descriptions Ordinance for failing to display energy levels or warning labels. The case has been passed to customs officials.

Asked whether people using laser pointers for stargazing on Wednesday night could be arrested if they used them for other purposes, Li said a device would be considered an offensive weapon only when used to harm others.

“If all those people use them for gazing at the stars, they don’t need to worry about being arrested,” he said.