Liz Truss’s government has summoned the Chinese ambassador’s deputy after a Hong Kong pro-democracy protester was beaten in the grounds of the China’s consulate in Manchester.
Foreign Office minister Jesse Norman said the government was “extremely concerned at the apparent scenes of violence” at the consulate and had told the Chinese embassy of the need to allow people to protest peacefully.
Mr Norman told MPs that foreign secretary James Cleverly had summoned the Chinese charge d’affaires on Tuesday to demand an explanation for the consulate staff’s actions. He said the deputy ambassador “will meet with officials this afternoon”.
He also said Greater Manchester Police had been forced to intervene to “restore order” – telling MPs that the force has launched an investigation to establish the facts.
“It’d be inappropriate to go into further detail until the investigation has concluded, but let me be clear that peaceful protest … is a fundamental part of British society and of our way of life,” the minister added.
It followed an urgent question from senior Tory MP Alicia Kearns – chair of the foreign affairs select committee – who called the attack “chilling” and demanded any officials involved be expelled from Britain within a week.
Scuffles broke out outside the building on Sunday afternoon after 30 to 40 pro-democracy protesters gathered and put up posters.
One protester had to be rescued by police after being dragged into the grounds of the consulate and beaten. The injured campaigner told BBC Chinese that unidentified men had ripped down the posters before he was attacked.
UK police are not normally allowed to enter consulate grounds without permission. The properties fall under UK law, but staff who work there may have diplomatic immunity.
According to the police, a man, in his 30s, suffered several physical injuries and remained in the hospital overnight for treatment. However, no arrests have been made said the police, adding that an investigation is under way.
Hong Kong leader John Lee insisted the case of assault be dealt in accordance with local laws. Issuing a statement on Tuesday, he said that he trusted the case would be responded to as per the Vienna Convention, an international diplomatic agreement.
China’s ministry claimed the pro-democracy Hong Kong protester assaulted on the grounds of the Chinese consulate in Manchester had illegally entered the premises.
The ministry said its diplomatic missions abroad have the right to “take necessary measures” to maintain security and rejected the protester’s account.
Wang Wenbin, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday: “What I want to stress is that the peace and dignity of Chinese embassies and consulates abroad must not be violated.”
Condemning the incident, Ms Kearns told the Commons: “We cannot allow the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] to import their beating of protesters, their silencing of free speech and their failure to allow time and time again protests on British soil. This is a chilling escalation.”
The senior Tory urged the government to ensure “any Chinese official involved in the beatings will be prosecuted and if they cannot be, will be expelled from this country within the week”.
Ms Kearns said the Government “must uphold” the fundamental right to protest. “We have seen continued persecution of the Uighur, of Tibetans, of Hongkongers and all those who come to our country to seek refuge,” she said.
“What took place on Sunday suggests they cannot seek refuge here and have their voices heard and our job is to make sure that their voices are not silenced.”
Labour’s Afzal Khan, MP for Manchester Gorton, said he was “sickened that such an event took place in my own constituency”.
He added: “These scenes… have no place on the streets of my city, or our country. The UK stands for freedom, the rule of law, and democracy. The quashing of peaceful protests will never be tolerated on British soil.”
The Chinese ambassador to the UK is believed to be out of the country.