HONG KONG (Reuters) – A prominent member of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party said on Friday he was beaten and “stapled” by mainland agents in the Chinese-controlled city before being dumped on a beach in what activists said was the latest warning to the democracy movement.
He said he was even warned in a telephone call not to give a photo signed by Barcelona footballer Lionel Messi to the widow of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
Howard Lam, a key pro-democracy activist in the former British colony, was confronted by men speaking Mandarin, spoken in Beijing but not widely in Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong, outside a sports store, he told reporters.
Lam said the men took him away, interrogating him and stapling his skin 21 times for being “unpatriotic” in a nine-hour ordeal. He was knocked out and eventually found himself dumped on a beach in Hong Kong’s remote Sai Kung district.
Hong Kong police and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of China’s State Council were not immediately available for comment.
The attack comes as hostility to Beijing has spiraled and the battle for full democracy has become a defining issue for the city of 7.3 million people.
Hong Kong became a “special administrative region” of China in 1997, since when it has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees a range of freedoms not enjoyed in China, including a direct vote for half of the 70-seat legislative assembly.
But activists say those freedoms have come under threat with perceived meddling by Communist Party rulers in Beijing.
In July, Hong Kong’s high court expelled four pro-independence lawmakers from the city’s legislature after invalidating their oaths of office, in what was seen as the clearest indication of direct intervention by Beijing.
The 2015 abduction of several Hong Kong booksellers, who sold publications critical of China’s leaders, by mainland agents also shook confidence in Beijing’s promise of non-interference, activists say.
Lam said he had received a call from a mainland Chinese person claiming to be part of the mainland intelligence service. He said he was warned not to give the Messi photo to the widow of Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Chinese Nobel laureate who died from cancer last month.
It was not immediately clear how they knew of his plans to do so.
Pro-democracy lawmakers, academics and political activists worry that Hong Kong is becoming more like mainland Chinese cities, where the internal security services join forces with police to crush dissent.
Chinese President Xi Jinping swore in Hong Kong’s new leader last month with a stark warning that Beijing won’t tolerate any challenge to its authority in the city as it marked the 20th anniversary of its return from Britain to China.
Reporting by Farah Master and Stefanie McIntyre; Editing by Nick Macfie