The Chinese secret service has long been suspected of kidnapping democracy activists and other opponents of the regime. However in at least one case they may have been maligned. Howard Lam, 44, is a founder member of one of Hong Kong’s leading pro-democracy parties. He claimed that he had been kidnapped by Chinese agents in August 2017 before being released after being tortured with a stapler. He exhibited his wounds at a press conference.
Lam was found guilty on 15 March in Hong Kong of having misled police. He was jailed for five months, but has been bailed pending an appeal. The case has always been a little strange. First, people kidnapped by the Chinese are rarely released to tell their story. Second, Lam has always claimed that the trigger for his kidnapping was that he had announced his intention to send a photograph of the footballer Lionel Messi to the widow of Chinese dissident. This doesn’t appear to be a particularly threatening thing to do. Third, there were no witnesses to his abduction despite the fact that Lam says he was taken from a street in broad daylight and bundled into a van. Of course, it might be possible to do this without being noticed, but the lack of witnesses doesn’t help his case. Fourth, CCTV has been found which shows him walking in the street, unmolested, at the time that he says he was abducted. Finally, it would be strange for the Chinese, having released him, to then prosecute him in court for making it all up. Why bother to do that? Perhaps to discredit him (his abduction has become a bit of a cause célèbre in Hong Kong), but it is a bit thin.
While he was being held, Lam said that he was drugged, punched and told that he was disloyal to China. He then woke up lying in the street the next morning. This all appears to be quite different to previous abductions in 2015 and 2016 when victims were taken back to China and held for trial. It is possible that this is a new type of intimidation aimed at democracy activists by the Chinese authorities. If so, it doesn’t appear to have been very well thought out. It may also have been the work of local nationalist thugs who have a strong dislike of Lam. Perhaps the appeal will find out.