Democratic Party activist Howard Lam – who claimed to have been drugged, abducted and tortured by mainland agents in 2017 – was convicted on Friday of misleading the police. He was sentenced to five months in jail, but was released on bail pending an appeal.
Lam first claimed in August 2017 that suspected mainland agents seized him from a Mong Kok street, drugged him, and inserted 21 staples into his thigh. The agents then abandoned him on a Sai Kung beach, he said.
But less than a week later, Lam was arrested and charged with knowingly making a false report to the police. This came days after investigative news agency Factwire published CCTV clips appearing to contradict Lam’s version of events.
During the trial, prosecutors said that Lam, 42, was just “putting on a show,” and that there was conclusive CCTV evidence to show that Lam left Mong Kok voluntarily, instead of being taken in a van. A prosecution expert witness said the injuries were likely self-inflicted, but a defence expert said they were consistent with Lam’s claims of being tortured.
Acting Chief Magistrate So Wai-tak said on Friday that Lam was never abducted and that the incident was “self-orchestrated.”
So said he had personally viewed the video evidence multiple times, and identified Lam as the person who was caught on camera in Mong Kok.
The person had been wearing a cap, sunglasses and a face mask, which So said was used by Lam to “hide his identity.”
In a lengthy courtroom recreation of the day’s events, So said that Lam left his Ma On Shan residence on August 10, 2017 and was seen wearing a cap – contradicting Lam’s testimony that he did not bring a cap because of the hot weather.
Lam then took a bus to Mong Kok and visited a football jersey shop. His path took him along Dundas Street, Portland Street and Hamilton Street before moving towards a minibus stop. A man resembling Lam was spotted soon afterwards in Sai Kung.
In determining the sentence, So said Lam “showed no remorse” and the crime was premeditated, as shown by Lam’s disguises. Lam did not enter a plea for mitigation.
So earlier accepted a piece of character evidence in support of Lam, which said he had a “good character and sense of justice.” Lam’s defence lawyer also said that Lam suffered from psychological pressure and lost an opportunity to study a doctoral degree at Yale University.
However, So said that jail sentence was the only option and Lam had “brought it on himself.” So added that Lam’s actions misled the local and international community into believing that mainland authorities had conducted a cross-border operation of an “almost lawless” nature, which sparked fear and panic.
Lam’s case also used up a lot of police manpower and time, So said. A police representative told reporters that the first month of investigations took up over 7,000 man hours and cost more than HK$1 million.
Speaking after the judgment, a defiant Lam said that he had never lied and planned to “appeal to the end.”
“[The magistrate] seems to say that I was defaming the public security agents of the central government,” he said, voicing disagreement. He added that he had no motive to lie, and had no vices and no plans to run for election.
He said that it was “highly unusual” for the police to arrest him on the basis of Factwire’s report, and the move made him look guilty before he received a fair trial. Lam also criticised the police as failing to focus their investigation on the alleged phone call he received from a mainland agent.
A police representative contradicted Lam on Friday, saying that Lam’s initial arrest was based on their own investigation.
Lam’s mother told reporters outside court that the judgment was unfair and left her heartbroken: “Since he was a child he has had a heart of kindness and justice, and never lied… This time, justice was not done, and it is really hurtful for [the magistrate] to say my son brought it on himself.”
Lam was a founding member of the Democratic Party, but the court hearing on Friday saw few supporters from his party. Former party chair Albert Ho and lawmaker Ted Hui showed up at court; Hui later said he was only supporting Lam in a personal capacity.