The Metropolitan police are investigating an incident on Thursday evening when Hong Kong’s justice minister, Teresa Cheng, fell to the ground after being surrounded by furious pro-democracy demonstrators outside an event in central London.
The jostling was the first direct altercation between demonstrators and a Hong Kong government minister since protests, now in their sixth month, erupted in the international finance hub.
Footage showed protesters, some wearing face-masks and carrying phone cameras, surrounding the deeply unpopular cabinet official and yelling “shame on you”. Cheng is then seen falling to the floor, although it is not clear from video footage if she was pushed. Some protesters said she tripped on a pavement as she was jostled.
Cheng regained her feet moments later and was escorted away with no immediately visible signs of injury.
The Chinese embassy in the UK issued a strongly worded statement saying Cheng was pushed to the ground and had sustained a hand injury, and urged the British police to investigate.
“We express strong indignation and unequivocally condemn the activists,” the embassy said. “The violent and lawless perpetrators who organised via online communication committed flagrant assault on the senior official of the Hong Kong SAR government. It has once again proved that their real intention is to destabilise Hong Kong, paralyse the SAR government and undermine ‘One Country, Two Systems.
“Now, they are taking such violence abroad and into the UK. Their action deserves to be condemned not only by the entire Chinese people including the Hong Kong compatriots but also by the British public and the international community unanimously”.
A complaint has been lodged by the Chinese embassy with the Foreign office, and Cheng herself in a statement urged the police to bring any alleged culprits to justice.
Cheng was walking in the road with no obvious protection on the way to give a scheduled speech at the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators in Bloomsbury, central London, when surrounded by a crowd. No police officers are visible.
She was later taken to hospital but discharged.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said in a statement that Cheng had suffered “serious bodily harm” during the altercation. She described the behaviour of the protesters involved as “barbaric” and a violation of “the principles of a civilised society”.
The Chinese have long been frustrated at the reluctance of the British government to condemn Hong Kong’s protesters more unequivocally. The UK government has supported the right for peaceful protest, and condemned police over-reaction.
Cheng is a detested figure among the protesters since her department is in charge of prosecuting protesters who have filled city streets for months.
She is also unpopular since she is regarded as having played a key role in pushing forward the now-shelved extradition bill to China, which sparked the unrest.
The Chartered Institute said in a statement Cheng had been invited as the first woman and past-president to deliver the institute’s prestigious Alexander Lecture in London. She was due to argue that Kong Kong was a hub for dispute resolution.
In Hong Kong, protests have tipped into worsening violence with two people dead in a week and further protests planned for Friday.
For a fifth straight day on Friday, protesters caused widespread disruption with barricades and rallies.