Manchester police probe assault of peaceful protester inside Chinese consulate
The assault on a man in his 30s who was later sent to hospital sparks calls for a diplomatic response.
By Amelia Loi for RFA Mandarin and Cantonese 2022.10.17 -- U.K. police are investigating the assault of a man who was dragged into the grounds of the Chinese Consulate in the city and beaten by a group of unidentified men amid an altercation about a ripped protest banner at the weekend.
"We're investigating the assault of a man following a protest outside the Chinese Consulate in Manchester yesterday," Greater Manchester Police said in a statement on Monday.
The man, in his 30s, was sent to hospital after suffering "several physical injuries" in the assault, which came after around 30-40 people gathered in a peaceful protest outside the consulate on the first day of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s 20th National Congress in Beijing.
The beating came after verbal altercations between protesters and a man believed to be a member of consulate staff, who kicked and ripped a banner placed on the sidewalk by protesters outside the consulate gates, according to a video clip of the incident posted to Telegram and Twitter.
"Congratulations, my ass. Wipe out the CCP!" the banner read.
The man who damaged the banner was later seen on the video inside the grounds of the consulate.
The injured protester, who gave only the pseudonym Bob, said he was held to the ground and beaten by four people for more than a minute before a policeman dragged him away from his attackers.
"Otherwise, I could have been beaten to death, with people forced to watch and police unable to save me if the gates had been closed," Bob said.
"My current injuries are mainly on my head and back, with scratches to my face, eyes and neck, and some bruising and scrapes on my back," he said. "I was afraid at the time ... but if I were too scared I wouldn't come out to demonstrate in the first place."
Bob said the officer who eventually saved him admitted he wasn't supposed to go inside the gates at all.
Police said they already had patrols in the area, as the demonstration had been planned in advance.
"Shortly before 4.00 p.m. a small group of men came out of the building and a man was dragged into the Consulate grounds and assaulted," the police statement said.
"Due to our fears for the safety of the man, officers intervened and removed the victim from the Consulate grounds."
Officers were seen on the video moving in past the gates and dragging the man away from his assailants.
"Detectives from our Major Incident Team are investigating the incident and we are liaising with national policing and diplomatic partners," the police said.
U.K.-based rights group Hong Kong Watch condemned the "appalling violence perpetrated by individuals who are reportedly officials from the Chinese Consulate-General in Manchester."
The newly elected chair of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, Alicia Kearns, called on the government to summon the Chinese ambassador over the incident.
"The CCP will not import their beating of protesters and denial of free speech to British streets," Kearns said via her Twitter account.
"If any official has beaten protesters, they must be expelled or prosecuted," she said.
Benedict Rogers, co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, said the incident was "outrageous."
"If the footage and reports are accurate, it would appear that Chinese Consulate officials assaulted peaceful protesters and, even more seriously, dragged them into the Consulate to beat them up," Rogers said in an Oct. 17 statement on the group's website.
"They must not be allowed to get away with this, they cannot be allowed to hide behind diplomatic immunity, and they must be investigated and, if found guilty by an investigation, they should either face criminal prosecution or immediate expulsion," he said.
"We cannot allow the CCP regime's thuggery, brutality, inhumanity and criminality on the streets of Britain."
No arrests have yet been made in what police described as "complex" enquiries involving working with "diplomatic partners."
Anyone with video footage or information about the incident is being asked to share it at the following web address: https://mipp.police.uk/operation/06GMP22A58-PO1
"It is clear what began as a peaceful protest unexpectedly escalated and our officers acted professionally in response to a hostile and dynamic situation to help the victim and ensure he didn't come to any further harm," assistant chief constable Rob Potts said.
"I can assure the public that all viable avenues will be explored to bring to justice anyone we believe is culpable for the scenes we saw outside the Chinese Consulate on Sunday," he said.
"This investigation will take time but we are supporting the man who was subjected to this assault."
China's foreign ministry said it hadn't heard about the incident when contacted for comment by RFA.
"I am not aware of the relevant situation you mentioned," an official said in an emailed response. "The Chinese embassy and consulates in the UK always abide by the laws of the countries where they are stationed."
Unconfirmed reports from the scene identified the grey-haired man in a hat who damaged the protest banners as Chinese consul general for Manchester Zheng Xiyuan.
A visual comparison by RFA's Cantonese Service showed that earlier photos of Zheng did somewhat resemble the man.
A written request to the Chinese consulate in Manchester for comment had met with no reply by the time of writing.
Protest organizers -- named by CNN as a Hong Kong pro-democracy group called Hong Kong Indigenous Defence Force -- told RFA at the time that the victim of the attack was one of the demonstration organizers.
Eye on Hong Kong overseas offices
Hong Kong activists raised concerns in late 2021 over security threats to Hong Kong activists in the U.K., which has offered a path to citizenship for some three million Hong Kongers fleeing a crackdown on dissent under draconian security legislation imposed by the CCP in the wake of the 2019 protest movement.
Concerns had already been growing over the CCP's United Front operations in the country after messages were found on WeChat in December calling on Chinese patriots "of the kind who know how to fight" to target Hong Kong protesters.
Anyone attacking a group of Hong Kong protesters was told to "first go for anyone holding a camera, a black flag, or a microphone or PA, and go hard at these key points from the start," according to screenshots of the messages posted to Twitter at the time.
Exiled former pro-democracy lawmaker Nathan Law has accused the CCP of running clandestine "United Front" operations in the U.K., while China's nationalistic tabloid the Global Times, which has close ties to CCP mouthpiece the People's Daily, said the Hong Kong group had been acting "provocatively" at the scene, while confirming that the fight was started by members of the Federation of UK Fujian Chinese, a United Front-linked organization.
The 2019 protest movement in Hong Kong exacerbated pre-existing fault-lines between mainland Chinese and Hong Kongers in the U.K., with earlier migrants and Chinese community groups often strongly supportive of Beijing's line on Hong Kong.
The Manchester attack came as Hong Kong Watch warned in a report that Hong Kong's economic and trade representative offices in foreign countries were no longer fit for purpose.
Report author and surveillance researcher Anouk Wear said the offices have been transformed in recent years into purveyors of CCP propaganda, rather than representing the interests of Hong Kongers, and called for a reexamination of their status.
"The National Security Law in Hong Kong has not only destroyed basic rights and freedoms, but has supplanted the autonomy of the [Hong Kong government] and their representatives abroad, the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices," Wear said.
"Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices are used today to exert [Beijing's] influence abroad in cultural and business spheres to justify the ongoing crackdown and imposition of the national security law," she said.
"Host countries should review the status of [offices], remove their privileges, and where appropriate close these offices, as it becomes increasingly hard to justify the People's Republic of China having two de facto embassies in one country," Wear said.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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