The Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday continued to scrutinise the story of activist Howard Lam’s alleged abduction, as police witnesses were examined by his defence lawyers.

A police officer testified that Lam’s phone showed a record of him receiving a call two days before the alleged abduction, which Lam claimed was from a mainland agent surnamed Hui.

Howard Lam
Howard Lam.

On the same day, Lam told others in a group chat on a messaging app that he had been threatened not to give a signed photograph of footballer Lionel Messi to Liu Xia, the widow of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo.

Lam first claimed in August 2017 that he was drugged, abducted and tortured by suspected mainland agents in Hong Kong. Lam said the men seized him in Mongkok, inserted 21 staples into his legs, before abandoning him on a Sai Kung beach.

He was later charged with knowingly making a false report to the police, which comes with a maximum fine of HK$1,000 and six months in jail.

Lam, a founding member of the Democratic Party, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

His defence lawyers continued to cross-examine police witnesses on Tuesday, asking one officer how he managed to recognise Lam from surveillance camera footage.

West Kowloon Magistrates Court Law Courts Building
West Kowloon Magistrates Courts. File photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

Detective Police Constable Lam Kam-wa said that he recognised Lam by his “inward bending” – also known as “pigeon-toed” walking posture.

However, officer Lam admitted that he was not a gait expert and there were parts of the video footage that he re-watched on fast forward.

The officer had previously claimed he identified Lam’s movements, despite him wearing different clothing, and had seen video footage contradicting Lam’s narrative.

Search history not evidence

Defence lawyers also challenged the prosecution’s claim that Lam did an online search for “chloroform” – a chemical compound that knocks people out – on his phone.

The lawyers said that the police did not have a warrant at the time to search the digital contents of Lam’s phone.

The High Court ruled last year that the police need a court warrant to inspect electronic devices, except in “exigent circumstances.”

telecom mobile phone
File photo: Pixabay.

Defence lawyers further argued that Lam did the online search after reading a news article on the “cement-coffin murder” – a gruesome local murder case which also involved chloroform use. The browser history was therefore unrelated to the abduction and had little evidential value, they said.

The prosecution then withdrew the application to list the browser history as evidence.

At trial, the prosecution also showed video footage from the press conference where Lam exhibited his wounds. A media interview with Lam and a Facebook live-stream video was also shown.

In one of the videos, Lam said he had never changed his story despite doubts expressed by others. He added that he had no personal feuds with anyone, no gambling habits, no mental disorders and denied staging the abduction.

Lam appeared unwell on Tuesday morning, but it was ruled that the trial could continue. It will resume on Wednesday.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.