Democratic Party activist Howard Lam‘s injuries are “consistent” with his claim that he was tortured, a forensic doctor called by Lam’s defence has said. The assessment contradicts one put forward by a pathologist on Wednesday who said Lam’s injuries were likely to have been self-inflicted. 

Lam first claimed in August 2017 that he had been drugged, abducted and tortured by suspected mainland agents in Hong Kong. Lam said agents had seized him in Mong Kok, inserted 21 staples into his thighs, before abandoning him on a Sai Kung beach.

Dr Jason Payne-James
Dr Jason Payne-James. Photo: Citizen News.

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. A magistrate ruled on Wednesday that Lam had a case to answer, given the evidence put forward by the prosecution.

The barrister for Lam called in a British specialist in forensic and legal medicine, Dr Jason Payne-James, to testify at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Thursday. It came after the prosecution called Senior Forensic Pathologist Lai Sai-chak, who said Lam is likely to have inflicted the injuries by his own hand.

Payne-James said Lam’s version of events was “consistent” with his injuries. He said it was not possible to judge that Lam’s injuries were self-inflicted by only looking at the evidence at hand. However, he also said he would not rule out the possibility that they might have been self-inflicted.

He said he used the term “consistent” in reference to the definition in the United Nations’ Istanbul Protocol, which is the world’s first set of international guidelines documenting torture.

Payne-James said it was possible that an attacker had inserted the staples on Lam’s thighs in an orderly manner, if the attacker had pressed Lam down. Payne-James also said there were red spots on Lam’s legs, which were not completely even, which might indicate that Lam had struggled.

Howard Lam
Howard Lam. Photo: Citizen News.

One argument the prosecution put forward was that the injuries inflicted with a stapler would have caused less pain to Lam than had he cut his own veins. Payne-James refuted the argument saying it was like “comparing [an] orange and apple,” as people experience pain differently.

Payne-James said he disagreed with the prosecution’s claim that Lam’s injuries on his abdomen were minor because the photos of the injuries had been taken 24 hours after Lam claimed he was attacked. Payne-James described the bruises as “very medium level.”

‘Sense of justice’

Lam’s barrister also called Chinese University of Hong Kong theology professor Kung Lap-yan, who supervised Lam’s doctoral degree, to give statements. Kung said Lam had been a hard-working student and had never committed a crime.

Kung Lap-yan
Kung Lap-yan. Photo: Citizen News.

Kung said he had known Lam for 11 years and believed him to be a person with a sense of justice.

Kung said he knew that Lam had been in contact with people on the mainland who claimed to represent the government. He knew that Lam had said he received threatening phone calls from mainland national security officers.

The case will be postponed to February 18 for closing submissions.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.