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Hundreds of protesters in Hong Kong deftly trolled police with a laser party on Wednesday night, mocking the cops’ justification for arresting a student protest leader.
The “stargazing” laser party — mirroring the harborfront light show put on by Hong Kong’s tourism board every night — was held to protest the arrest of Keith Fong, the 20-year-old president of Baptist University Students’ Union. Fong was taken into custody on Tuesday after buying 10 laser pointers, commonly used by teachers and stargazers.
Police claimed that the devices, which they referred to as laser guns, were “offensive weapons,” and demonstrated in a press conference Wednesday how the devices could burn through paper.
Fong’s arrest drew immediate outrage from protesters: hundreds of people surrounded the police station where he was being held, prompting police to fire tear gas into the crowd and arrest a further nine people. On Wednesday night, protesters took a more creative tack, holding a laser party to ridicule the police’s stated reasons for the arrest.
Gathering at the Space Museum, hundreds of protesters trained their laser pointers on the planetarium, yelling that they were trying to set fire to the building. They then attempted to burn through a pro-Beijing newspaper, again without success. As the night worse on, the protest took on a carnivalesque atmosphere, with protesters making shadow hand puppets, singing, and dancing.
"Reclaim Hong Kong, revolution of our times!" the crowd chanted, using a phrase that has become the slogan up the protest movement.
For many, the event was a welcome change of pace from nine weeks of protests that have become increasingly violent, with police regularly firing tear gas at demonstrators, and armed pro-Beijing mobs attacking protesters on several occasions.
“This is the joyous, comedic side of [the protests] I’ve been missing amid the miasma of tear gas,” tweeted Ryan Ho Fitzpatrick, a writer who was at the laser party.
“Tonight was something we all needed: no tears, no blood, just laughter, song, and dance.”
Laser pointers have been widely used by both protesters and police during the recent demonstrations, which began in opposition to a controversial extradition bill and have morphed into a broader movement against Beijing’s tightening grip on the city. Protesters have flashed them at police, in an apparent bid to confuse them and prevent their surveillance cameras from identifying individuals, while police have pointed them at protesters and journalists. The Hong Kong Journalists' Association has accused police of using the pointers to obstruct reporting of the protests.
Police said Wednesday that the use of lasers by protesters had become more prevalent.
"So far, three of our officers received medical treatment after protesters shined laser guns at them," said chief superintendent John Tse. "Even if the laser is not strong enough to cause injury, strong light exposure can cause flash blind(ness).”
The increasing volatility in Hong Kong led Washington to raise its warning over travel to the semi-autonomous Chinese city Wednesday, lifting it to level two on a four-point scale.
“The protests and confrontations have spilled over into neighborhoods other than those where the police have permitted marches or rallies,” said the advisory, urging travellers to exercise greater caution.
“These demonstrations, which can take place with little or no notice, are likely to continue.”
This video segment originally aired August 7, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.
Cover: Protesters focus the laser pointers to a newspaper as they try to burn it, during a rally to demonstrate against the arrests of people caught in possession of laser pointers that police classified as offensive weapons because of their ability to harm the eyes in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. Hong Kong is facing its "most severe situation" since its handover from British rule in 1997 following weeks of demonstrations and the central government is considering what measures to take next, the head of Beijing's Cabinet office responsible for the territory said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)