A reporter for the Chinese Communist Party's state broadcaster has been charged with common assault after a confrontation with organizers and volunteers at a fringe event of the ruling Conservative Party conference in Birmingham last month.
A video of the incident posted by the rights group Hong Kong Watch at the time showed China Central Television (CCTV) reporter Kong Linlin being escorted from the venue on Sept. 30.
CCTV said at the time that Kong had been released without charge "after diplomatic pressure," but West Midlands Police have said she has now been charged with common assault and is scheduled to appear at Birmingham Magistrates Court on Nov. 7.
A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in London had called on Oct. 1 for the event organizers to apologize to Kong, 48, adding that the Chinese Communist Party strongly objected to the content of the panel which was discussing democracy and eroding freedoms since the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997.
The panel included pro-democracy politicians Nathan Law, Martin Lee, and Hong Kong University law lecturer Benny Tai, one of the founders of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, who has been lambasted by the pro-China press for discussing the concept of independence for the city in public.
The spokesman said the event had "boosted the arrogance of the anti-China separatists," and was "a cause for grave concern and strong objection."
CCTV said on Friday that "the guilty party" had pressed charges to try to obscure the facts, and the broadcaster supported Kong in reserving the right to make counter charges, Reuters reported.
However, Kong has been criminally charged by the U.K.'s public prosecutor, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
'Obstructed, roughly handled'
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying spoke out in Kong's support on Friday.
The journalist had been "obstructed in every possible way and even treated roughly" when trying to express her views, Hua told a regular news conference in Beijing.
"The attitude of the British police has been inconsistent, and makes one suspect the reasons behind it," she said, calling on the U.K. government to "safeguard" bilateral ties.
U.K.-based writer Zhang Pu said the situation stemmed directly from the Chinese Communist Party's view of the media as the agents of the Chinese state, and has spurred nationalistic support by internet users back home.
"Kong Linlin has become a Communist Party internet celebrity," Zhang said. "Any journalist sent overseas by the Chinese Communist Party has certain [political] duties."
"The Chinese Embassy has tried to protect her, and called on the Conservative Party to apologize, and protect her freedom of speech."
"But this isn't about freedom of speech ... we will have to see which evidence the court accepts."
Pushing an agenda overseas
Germany-based artist Yang Dedong said Western governments should think about how China uses state media to push an agenda overseas.
"This isn't an isolated incident ... and there is no way to explain it in terms of press freedom," Yang said.
"When a barbarous regime collides with a civilized one, the civilized regime will be the first to get hurt, so it should use the law to prevent this, but the consequences of such sanctions for the Chinese Communist Party are still pretty minimal," he said.
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Han Jie for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.