A man who was allegedly assaulted in China’s consulate in Manchester during a weekend protest on Wednesday denied claims from the Chinese mission that he had tried to rush into the consulate, as pressure mounted for a tougher response from London.
China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that it had lodged representations with Britain over the incident in the northern English city on Sunday, the first day of the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th National Congress in Beijing, while some British lawmakers called for the expulsion of the diplomats involved.
Video of the incident posted to social media showed a verbal altercation between 30-40 people peacefully protesting outside the consulate in Manchester and a man believed to be a member of consulate staff, who kicked and ripped a protest banner placed on the sidewalk outside the compound gates.
A Hong Kong pro-democracy protester, whom local media identified as Bob Chan, was then dragged into the consulate grounds where he was held to the ground and beaten by four people for more than a minute before a policeman pulled him away from his attackers, he told RFA on Tuesday.
The Manchester Evening News quoted Chan on Wednesday as denying claims by the Chinese mission he was trying to enter the consulate grounds on Sunday and describing being assaulted by men outside the mission.
“I am shocked and hurt by this unprovoked attack. I am shocked because I never thought something like this could have happened in the UK,” he told a news conference in the British Parliament Wednesday.
“I then found myself being dragged into the grounds of the consulate. I held onto the gates where I was kicked and punched, I could not hold on for long, the Evening news quoted him as saying.
“I was eventually pulled onto the ground of the consulate. I felt punches and kicks from several men. Other protestors were trying to get me out of this situation, but to no avail.
“The attack only stopped when a man who turned out to be a uniformed officer from the Greater Manchester Police pulled me outside the gates. Let me say it again so I am clear: I was dragged into the consulate. I did not attempt to enter the consulate.”
Crude anti-Xi language
Chan’s media appearance came after Chinese consul general Zheng Xiyuan revealed to British newspapers The Guardian and the Manchester Evening News on Tuesday the contents of a letter he wrote to the Greater Manchester Police.
The Guardian quoted Zheng’s letter as saying the protesters had displayed slogans that were “deliberately designed to provoke, harass, alarm and distress our consular staff.” He said the activists were “asked politely” to remove the imagery “but refused to do so”.
The banners included a picture of Chinese President Xi Jinping with a noose around his neck, along with slogans in Chinese saying “God kill CPC (Communist Party of China)” and “[expletive] your mother,” Zheng wrote.
“At one point the consulate grounds were stormed by a group of protesters and members of consular staff were required to physically fend off unauthorised entry and subsequent assaults,” he asserted.
The Evening News quoted Zheng as acknowledging he was involved in the fracas.
Greater Manchester Police as saying no arrests had been made as of Wednesday, the newspaper said.
“Our investigation into the assault of a man after a protest outside the Chinese Consulate in Manchester on Sunday is ongoing with detectives still working meticulously to establish the full circumstances,” quoted a police statement as saying.
“Investigators from our Major Incident Team have been obtaining statements from as many of those involved as possible and continue to review a range of CCTV, police body-worn video and mobile phone footage to assist in capturing a comprehensive understanding of what happened,” it said.
During a regular media briefing in Beijing Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said representations were made over what he described as lawless harassment.
In a sign of how sensitive the issue is for China, the questions and answers on the Manchester incident at foreign ministry press conferences have not appeared in transcripts on the website of the ministry for several days.
Calls for tougher response
In Britain, where the incident sparked a House of Commons hearing, lawmakers have called for the British government to take tougher action, including prosecution or expulsion of any Chinese officials found by investigators to be involved in the attack.
“We cannot allow the Chinese Communist Party to import their beating of protesters and their silencing of free speech … to British soil,” said Alicia Kearns, chair of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
Senior British officials at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office summoned China’s charge d’affaires to London, Yang Xiaoguang, about the alleged assault.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative party leader, said this was “totally inadequate” and said ministers should tell the Chinese diplomats that “if they do not follow our rules, they get expelled,” according to the Guardian.
The Hong Kong Indigenous Defense Force, an organization of Hong Kongers in the UK, said it plans to stage a rally in the city center of Manchester on October 23 to show support for the protesters who were attacked and press for British government follow-up on the incident.
A citywide crackdown on dissent in the wake of the 2019 protest movement in Hong Kong, followed by Beijing’s imposition in 2020 of a tough national security law, has led to an exodus of journalists, activists and others from the former British colony.
Chan said the incident wouldn’t stop him from raising his voice about Hong Kong.
“After this incident, I’m now worried about my safety, but it doesn’t mean I won’t stand up and speak my mind. Like I said before, the more you beat me, the more I will come out (and speak), because this is my right, I shouldn’t be punished.”
Written by Paul Eckert.