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Pro-democracy protesters point laser beams at the Hong Kong Space Museum during a demonstration on August 7, 2019. | Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Hong Kong police said lasers were “offensive weapons.” Demonstrators showed them otherwise.

After months of tense protests in Hong Kong, demonstrations took a lighter turn on Wednesday — in the form of a late-night laser show.

Hundreds of demonstrators armed with shining blue, green, and purple laser pointers gathered near the Hong Kong Space Museum after the sun went down to protest the arrest of a student leader, Keith Fong. Police apprehended Fong Tuesday after he bought 10 laser pointers, which Police Chief Inspector Chow Hok-yin called “offensive weapons.”

Police defended the arrest by arguing that laser pointers are dangerous because they can be used to damage people’s eyes and saying that protesters had used them against police. “During recent operations, you can see many people flashing these kinds of laser pointers at officers,” Chow said. “Some officers have felt unwell, and some were even injured.”

The police even staged a demonstration for the media in which they shined a laser pointer at a sheet of newspaper until it began to smoke in order to prove that lasers could burn through paper.

Needless to say, the protesters weren’t buying it, and accused police of “fabricating a charge in order to arrest innocent persons arbitrarily.”

On Tuesday, they amassed at the Sham Shui Po Police Station to protest Fong’s arrest, surrounding the building and occupying streets. Authorities tried to disperse the crowds with tear gas.

On Wednesday night, they once again took to the streets to call for Fong’s release. But this time, they brought laser pointers — hundreds of them — and staged a massive laser light show that would rival any rave.

 AP Photo/Kin Cheung
Protesters focus the laser pointers on 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, August 7, 2019.

Hundreds gathered outside the domed planetarium of the Hong Kong Space Museum to shine their lasers in a show of defiance — and more than a little bit of trolling.

The demonstrators, many smiling, laughing, and snapping photos on their cellphones, “pretended to set the building and trees outside on fire using the lasers,” the Guardian reports. “They chanted ‘fire, fire, not on fire’, as they pointed dozens of laser beams at the outside wall of the building.”

At one point, a demonstrator held up a newspaper and the crowd directed their lasers onto the newsprint, turning the paper into a glowing sheet — but definitely not setting it aflame.

The newspaper also just so happened to be one that has embraced a pro-Beijing stance, making it a powerful statement on the larger issue these Hong Kong protesters have been demonstrating about for months: Beijing’s growing attempts to exert control over Hong Kong.

Major protests began in June over a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong to extradite those accused of crimes to countries and territories that don’t have formal extradition treaties with its government — including mainland China.

Hong Kong is a former British colony, which the British handed back to China in 1997 on the condition that the territory would be allowed to govern itself for the next 50 years under the principle of “one country, two systems.” But that’s been increasingly under threat, as Beijing wants to bring Hong Kong closer into its orbit.

Demonstrators see the extradition bill as an example of that creep, and as something that threatens Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms. Critics worry the law will let Beijing target anyone it deems a threat to its power, which will curb Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms.

 AP Photo/Kin Cheung
Protesters use laser pointers to light the Hong Kong Space Museum.

The bill is currently on hold in the wake of massive, sometimes violent protests that have rocked the city and rattled Beijing. But the law hasn’t been formally withdrawn, and critics fear it could easily and swiftly be passed if they let up the pressure.

The laser show is intimately connected to this larger battle over the future of Beijing, but many demonstrators saw it as a reprieve from the tear gas and tensions that have unsettled the city-state in recent weeks.

Protesters made Star Wars memes from the photos filled with green lasers, and the light show turned into a late-night dance party.

Fong was released from custody Thursday morning, in a small but tangible victory for the demonstrators. But the peaceful, ebullient laser show is probably a temporary reprieve from the simmering unrest.

On Monday, a strike brought public transit — including airline flights — to a standstill. That drew some of the toughest language from Beijing, which called the protesters “extremely rampant and deranged.”

On Wednesday, Zhang Xiaoming, a senior Chinese official who runs Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of China’s State Council, hinted that Beijing would intervene if the situation continues to escalate. “If the situation worsens further, and there is turmoil that the Hong Kong government is unable to control,” Zhang said, “the central government absolutely will not just watch without doing anything.”

Author: Jen Kirby

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