A scuffle between a Hong Kong pro-democracy protester, in yellow mask, and Chinese consular staff during a demonstration outside the consulate in Manchester on Sunday
A scuffle between a Hong Kong pro-democracy protester, in yellow mask, and Chinese consular staff during a demonstration outside the consulate in Manchester on Sunday © Matthew Leung/The Chaser News/AFP/Getty Images

British police have opened an investigation into the assault of a protester inside the Chinese consulate in Manchester during a demonstration by Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigners on Sunday.

Greater Manchester police said in a statement on Monday that a “small group of men” had come out of the Chinese consulate and dragged one of the protesters back into the grounds and assaulted him. “Officers intervened and removed the victim from the consulate grounds,” it added.

The force said it had opened an investigation and was liaising with “national policing and diplomatic partners”. The victim suffered several injuries and stayed in a hospital overnight.

On Sunday afternoon, about 40 demonstrators gathered outside the consulate to advocate for Hong Kong independence and democracy. The same day marked the start of the Chinese Communist party congress, where President Xi Jinping is expected to secure an unprecedented third term as party chief.

The police described the protest as “peaceful” until the group of men emerged from the consulate and pulled a demonstrator off the pavement. The Chinese consulate in Manchester did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“A lot of Hong Kongers came to the UK to live in a country with a safer environment and freedom of speech. I’m worried that this is the start of Hong Kongers not being able to speak our voice again in the UK,” said CSL, a cameraman who was at the protest but did not want to use his full name for fear of Chinese government reprisal.

“These reports are obviously deeply concerning,” a Downing Street spokesperson said. “I am conscious that [police] inquiries are ongoing so it would be inappropriate for me to comment beyond that.”

Lawmakers condemned the assault and called for an explanation from the Chinese ambassador to the UK. Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle told parliament he was “convinced” that the issue “should be considered on the floor of this house”, implying it could be discussed on Tuesday.

“The CCP will not import their beating of protesters and denial of free speech to British streets. [The] Chinese ambassador should be summoned and if any official has beaten protesters, they must be expelled or prosecuted,” Alicia Kearns, chair of the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee, wrote on Twitter.

Afzal Khan, Labour MP for the Manchester Gorton constituency where the incident took place, said he was “absolutely appalled” and would be “raising the matter immediately”.

Witness accounts, corroborated by video, described a group of people, some wearing riot-gear helmets, emerging from the consulate and removing a poster erected by the protesters.

The poster erected by the protesters depicted a half-naked Xi wearing a crown and holding the island of Taiwan, a bloodied Ukraine and a bleeding Hong Kong. It also referred to the Chinese president’s pledge to unify Taiwan with China, his alliance with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the crackdown in Hong Kong, a former British colony.

Videos of the event then showed a scuffle at the gate. A man in a protective vest, who appeared to be from the consulate, was kicked while on the ground, as a ring of people inside the consulate punched the protester.

The diplomatic premises are part of British territory but cannot be entered without consent. British law applies to offences committed inside a consulate, though diplomats may have immunity.

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