A Hong Kong lawmaker criticized the conviction Thursday of a teenager for carrying a laser pointer, saying it could pave the way for more prosecutions of anti-government protesters amid months of unrest in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Local broadcaster RTHK said a court found a 16-year-old male student guilty of possessing the laser pointer and a modified umbrella - deemed to be offensive weapons. He was detained Sept. 21 near the site of a planned protest for democracy reforms.
The court reportedly ruled the youth had intended to use the laser pointer to cause harm to police by shining it in their eyes. He remained in custody until sentencing on Nov. 25.
While there has been controversy in the past over the use of laser pointers, legislator James To said the court's ruling was the first to designate the tool as a weapon since protests broke out in June.
“I do not think this is a fair conviction and it may lead to police abuse in prosecution of possession of laser pointer without good evidence of the intention for hurting people,” To, who is also a lawyer, told The Associated Press.
“This case can also create a precedent of more people being prosecuted for carrying ordinary objects like laser pointers and umbrellas,” he said.
The offense carries a jail term of up to three years, but To said the court can impose a lighter sentence, such as placing him on probation or community service, since he is a juvenile.
Young people have been at the forefront of the protests sparked by a now-shelved China extradition bill, viewed as a sign of creeping interference by Beijing on Hong Kong's judicial freedoms and other rights guaranteed when the former British colony was returned to China in 1997.
The movement has since expanded to include other demands including direct elections for the city's leaders and an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality against protesters.
Earlier Thursday, hundreds of masked students disrupted graduation ceremonies at two Hong Kong universities, shouting slogans and booing when the Chinese national anthem was played.
At the Chinese University of Hong Kong, graduates in ceremonial gowns along with masks and hard hats chanted pro-democracy and anti-police slogans while some sprayed graffiti on walls. A Mandarin-speaking man brandished a knife and started singing the national anthem before he was led away by security guards, local media said.
Most graduates held a hand with five open fingers aloft to mark the protesters' five demands when they went on stage to receive their scrolls. They also wore masks in a snub of a government ban last month on the wearing of facial coverings at rallies.
The scene was repeated at the University of Science and Technology, where a group of black-clad protesters took to the stage with banners and shouted slogans before the ceremony started and when the national anthem was played, as others booed.
Anger against police intensified after a University of Science and Technology student fell off a carpark building early Monday after police fired tear gas during clashes. The 22-year-old student remained in critical condition and police are investigating exactly what happened.
More than 3,300 people have been detained amid mounting violence, and Beijing has indicated it will tighten its grip on the territory to quell the unrest.