British police probe attack on Hong Kongers shown in online video

The incident comes amid growing concerns over a spate of overseas attacks by supporters of the Chinese state
By Amelia Loi for RFA Mandarin and Cantonese
British police probe attack on Hong Kongers shown in online video A man in a white shirt kicks at a man in a black shirt in this screenshot from a video taken in Southampton, England, Sunday, June 11, 2023.
Credit: Screenshot from netizen video

British police are investigating an attack on two Hong Kongers in the southern English city of Southampton after a video clip of two people believed to be supporters of the Chinese Communist Party was posted to social media.

"We have received a report of a hate-related assault in the Southampton area," Hampshire police told Radio Free Asia in a statement on Monday, adding that the attack took place at around 4.25 p.m. local time on Sunday. "Two people received minor injuries as a result of the assault." 

"We are currently conducting an investigation and carrying out enquiries to ascertain the exact circumstances of the incident."

The investigation came after calls from an exiled democratic district councilor from Hong Kong and a London-based rights group.

"A HKer was ambushed by a group of Chinese students after participating in #Southampton 6.12 Anni. Rally," former district councilor Carmen Lau said via her Twitter account after video clips of two young men assaulting a young man and a young woman clad in the black T-shirts of the protest movement were posted by the Twitter account "Mr. Li is not your teacher."

"#PhysicalAssault on the British soil, @HantsPolice shd investigate, Home Sec & Foreign Sec shd also investigate for any foreign infiltration," Lau said, calling on Hampshire police to investigate and tagging British foreign minister James Cleverly and Home Secretary Suella Braverman in the same tweet.

The video clip shows two men kicking a man in a black T-shirt and shouting expletives, as a young woman shoves one of them away. 

Social media reports said some of the people in the video clip were students at the University of Southampton.

The university said it was investigating the matter, but declined to comment in detail on the incident.

"We’re aware of the footage circulating on social media and are investigating," the university told Radio Free Asia. "The university condemns violence of any kind and respects everyone’s right to free speech."

“As this matter has now been reported to the police, it would be inappropriate to comment any further at this time,” it said.  

Infiltrating society

The incident comes amid growing concerns over Chinese Communist Party infiltration of all aspects of British life, and warnings from Hong Kongers in exile over growing acts of violence by Beijing supporters and officials alike.

Overseas activists frequently report being targeted by agents and supporters of the Chinese state, including secret Chinese police stations in a number of countries.

Lau also posted photos of injuries sustained by the young couple in the assault, which took place near the 0086 Supermarket on Southampton's Burgess Road, according to Google Street View images that matched the surroundings of the video clip. 

Benedict Rogers, who heads the London-based rights group Hong Kong Watch, said the incident was a case of "appalling #CCP thuggery," in a reference to the Chinese Communist Party, and had targeted Hong Kongers marking the fourth anniversary of the start of the 2019 protest movement at peaceful rallies in the United Kingdom.

"This appalling #CCP thuggery against #HongKongers in Southampton marking #612 anniversary is unacceptable and outrageous and cannot be tolerated," Rogers tweeted. 

"These thugs even had the audacity to post videos of their violence ... [and] must be arrested and prosecuted immediately."

Resisting Chinese infiltration and political influence was a key theme of Hong Kong June 12 protest anniversary rallies in London at the weekend.

Exiled Hong Kongers calling on the British government to do more to publicly support political prisoners like jailed media magnate Jimmy Lai, to shut down the Beijing-backed Confucius Institutes in British universities, and to stop rejecting political asylum applicants fleeing an ongoing political crackdown in Hong Kong.

Sheep Village Day Camp

Hong Kong exile groups in the United Kingdom have hit out at alleged transnational repression by the Chinese Communist Party on British soil after a church in the southern British town of Guildford canceled a children's workshop on justice, civil liberties and human rights last month.

Three groups representing Hong Kongers in the country – Kongtinue, Hongkongers in Britain and Sheep Village 2.0 – had hired a venue at the Guildford Baptist Church to run a "justice education day camp" for children on May 29, but the church canceled the booking two days before it was due to go ahead.

The Hong Kong Police National Security Department shows an illustration from three children's books that revolve around a village of sheep that has to deal with wolves from a different village, before a press conference in Hong Kong in 2021. Credit: Associated Press

Initially, the church's operations manager told the groups that they were new to the role and unaware that May 29 was a public holiday and that the venue wasn't available for hire that day.

But when the groups offered to change the date, the person admitted that they were acting because they had found out that the event's title, Sheep Village Day Camp, was a reference to a banned series of children's books whose five authors were jailed in September 2022 for "sedition," and were concerned about the impact on its multinational congregation.

"Having had a look at the nature of the event, we have now since decided that we should decline on this occasion to host your event. We were not aware from your original inquiry that the event was in relation to the Sheep Village Day Camp," the church said in an email, a screenshot of which was posted to Kongtinue's Facebook page.

"Our church community is made up of people from many nationalities, and whilst we do understand some of the underlying issues tackled by the Sheep Village books, we are mindful of the wider impact on our community," the email said.

Radio Free Asia has reached out to the Guildford Baptist Church for comment.

Kongtinue wrote that the decision "goes against the fundamental values of freedom of speech and cultural diversity that are essential to British society."

Education through games

The decision to cancel came as former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying called on the British police to investigate the event.

"All in the UK should be made aware of the fact that 'Sheep Village' is illegal," Leung wrote on his Facebook page in late May. "The 5 authors are serving prison terms in Hong Kong. All collaborators in the UK will be reported to the Hong Kong and UK police."

The Chinese section of his post said, "Please could the U.K. police investigate!"

"All in the UK should be made aware of the fact that 'Sheep Village' is illegal," says former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying, who called on British police to investigate the event. Credit: AFP file photo

Isaac Cheng, founder and director of Kongtinue, said he had planned to use the Sheep Village books to illustrate the impact of an unjust society on a person's life through game-playing.

He cited the British government's recent six-monthly report on Hong Kong, which raised the sentencing of five speech therapists to 19 months' imprisonment for "conspiring to produce seditious publications" as evidence of diminishing freedoms under the 2020 national security law.

Cheng said the cancellation was likely directly linked to Leung's Facebook post.

"He may no longer be chief executive, but he still wears an official hat as vice chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference," Cheng said. "He is a high-ranking official in the Chinese Communist Party, with a leadership ranking."

"So for him to exert pressure in a public forum is going to create a sense of fear in some organizations, including those in the United Kingdom," he said. "We are very concerned about this incident."

The three groups also hit out in a joint statement at Leung's bid "to openly [encourage] his followers to report lawful education events to the U.K. police in bad faith, so as to seek extraterritorial enforcement of ... the national security law in the U.K."

"Dissidents who are suppressed in their hometowns should be able to speak out for themselves freely while they seek refuge in liberal democracies," the statement said.

"We are deeply concerned that UK-based organizations may be unwittingly complicit in transnational repression," it said.

"Britain is a free and democratic country, and different opinions are allowed,” says Hongkongers in Britain founder Simon Cheng [right], shown at a London protest in 2020. Credit: Reuters

Hongkongers in Britain founder Simon Cheng said the Sheep Village Day Camp incident wasn't the first time Hong Kongers' political views have been suppressed in the U.K., with the organizers of a handicraft fair asking stallholders to remove items bearing slogans from the 2019 protest movement.

He said such censorship is often carried out by organizers wishing to preserve "political neutrality."

"Britain is a free and democratic country, and different opinions are allowed," he said. "So why does that have to be avoided because it's suddenly regarded as a political position?"

"This tendency to avoidance will play easily into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party's propaganda machine, or its supporters," he said. "It is playing into the hands of a totalitarian dictatorship."

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.


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