Police in Hong Kong fined a Russian man $3,000 (about $383 USD) for trying to smuggle used tear gas shells and rubber bullet casings back to his country as a souvenir, local media reported this week.
According to the newspaper Ming Pao, 30-year-old Startsev Aleksandr turned up at Hong Kong airport on Wednesday afternoon with seven pieces of used ammunition, including four tear gas shells and three rubber bullet shell casings that he picked up from a street where pro-democracy protesters clashed violently with police this week.
On arrival at the airport, Aleksandr asked staff if he would be able to take the items back to his country in his luggage. Rather than confiscating the items, staffers called the police, who after a short investigation, arrested him and charged him with possessing ammunition without a license.
Aleksandr pleaded guilty to the charges at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Friday afternoon, with his lawyers calling for leniency on the grounds that he did not participate in the protests and was not aware of local laws about possessing ammunition. He also told the judge that he planned to use them for decorative value by serving drinks in them.
He was eventually fined the equivalent of $383 USD, although under the law he could have faced up to 14 years in prison. Local law defines ammunition as typical firearm materials such as bullets and cartridges, but it also applies to shell casings and any “shot, bullet, missile or any other part of an article which constitutes ammunition.”
Aleksandr may consider himself to have gotten off lightly. This week, 26-year-old journalist Chow Man had his application for bail rejected and his case adjourned until mid-January after he was found in possession of 40 pieces of spent ammunition, including tear gas rounds, sponge grenades, rubber bullets, and cartridge casings.
Since mass pro-democracy demonstrations broke out in June, the city’s Beijing-backed police forces have ratcheted up the brutality with which they respond. Protests erupted against a bill that would have allowed China to extradite anyone president in the city for violating communist laws, a violation of the “One Country, Two Systems” policy that governs the city. Protesters are now demanding direct election of lawmakers to prevent such a bill from arising again as well as several other democratic measures.
On Monday, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing Chief Executive Carrie Lam labeled the protesters enemies of the people and warned that her government would not cede to any more of their demands.
“The violence has far exceeded the call for democracy and the demonstrators are now the people’s enemy,” she said in a defiant televised address. “If there’s still any wishful thinking that by escalating violence, the Hong Kong … government will yield to pressure, to satisfy the so-called political demands, I’m making this statement clear and loud here: that will not happen.”