A Chinese reporter has received praise in mainland China after disrupting a UK event discussing political freedoms in Hong Kong.
State TV reporter Kong Linlin is alleged to have slapped a young Conservative Party activist, Enoch Lieu, at the party’s annual conference in Birmingham.
Tens of thousands of users have praised her for defending Chinese sovereignty over Hong Kong. However, many of these comments appear to have been left by government-paid propagandists.
Ms Kong was held by West Midlands Police overnight on Sunday and they confirmed her release on Monday, as investigations continue.
The BBC has contacted Ms Kong for comment on the allegations.
On 1 October, a spokesperson for West Midlands police said officers were called to the party conference on Sunday afternoon “after reports a disturbance had broken out during a talk on Hong Kong”. It said that “a 48-year-old woman from King’s Cross, London, was arrested on suspicion of common assault”.
Reports say that Ms Kong, a reporter for China’s CCTV network, began heckling the activist Benedict Rogers during his speech.
Mr Rogers heads Hong Kong Watch, a UK-based human rights group that is critical of Beijing’s actions in the territory, which enjoys much more political freedom than the rest of China.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to China in 1997 following an agreement that the territory would enjoy “a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs”, for 50 years.
Hong Kong Watch says that Ms Kong started shouting and called Mr Rogers a “liar” and “anti-China” when he told the room that he was “pro-China” despite being a government critic. She is also said to have called pro-democracy activists from Hong Kong who spoke at the event “traitors”.
Enoch Lieu, a student party volunteer, alleged on his Twitter page that he was “slapped in the face” by Ms Kong when he asked her to leave.
Video has circulated since the weekend of the altercation which does not show the alleged slap, but shows the reporter arguing with him, while being restrained by delegates.
“Oh, how democratic, UK! You’re so proud of it!” she is heard saying, while she is escorted off the premises.
Mr Rogers has said the video “doesn’t capture her first moments of frenzied screaming and abuse and assault. Ask any one of the 80 witnesses who were in the room.”
CCTV says that Ms Kong been released without charge. It quotes an unnamed lawyer as saying that Ms Kong had just been carrying out her duties and that the conference organisers had acted “inappropriately”.
Who is Kong Linlin?
Kong Linlin is a London-based correspondent for China’s official state broadcaster CCTV.
She is based in the UK and reports for the broadcaster on key political and news developments in the country, including Brexit.
The incident in Birmingham has gained her wide attention, but she has long established herself as a staunch nationalist.
She has been fiercely critical of reports from foreign media outlets over the last decade, including those of the BBC. On her social media pages, she has previously accused correspondents of reporting “fake news” and of being biased in their reporting.
What are Chinese media saying?
Official media in China have either played down or made no mention of the alleged slap, instead reporting that Ms Kong’s detention was in violation of her rights.
Reports say that she was continuously “stonewalled” at the event when she expressed her opinions and “suffered a lot of obstruction”. One state media report alleged that she was “even physically assaulted”.
CCTV said on Tuesday that she was released “after pressure from the Chinese Embassy in the UK and after pressure from public opinion”.
The Chinese Embassy had earlier called her removal from the Tory conference “completely unacceptable”, adding: “In a country that boasts freedom of speech, it is puzzling that the Chinese journalist should encounter obstruction in such a way.”
However, independent Hong Kong media have speculated that she might have had career motives in creating a scene, and being seen as a “patriot”.
How have the public responded?
There are strong indications that social media commentary on the incident is being influenced by China’s so-called “50 Cent Party” – a legion of commentators who are paid small amounts to post messages supporting the government’s position.
There are tens of thousands of comments on the Twitter-like platform Sina Weibo, and the majority are from users praising Ms Kong for defending China with her actions. Many comments emphasise her perceived role in defending national unity between mainland China and Hong Kong.
Very few comments are available to view that criticise her for the alleged slap.
One user, whose comment received more than 17,000 likes, calls her “a good journalist who resolutely safeguards national unity and safeguards the reputation of the motherland” and says: “Please be sure to commend her!”
“Kong Linlin did well to dare challenge this kind of unscrupulous Hong Kong independence talk!” another user added, receiving 6,000 likes.
Others comments with far fewer likes criticise her alleged behaviour One user says: “It was correct for the British police to arrest the female reporter, and she should apologise”.
Some are also speculating on the effect this incident will have on wider Sino-British relations. “The Hong Kong issue is the internal affairs of our country,” one user says, criticising the Conservative Party.
Another user says that the incident shows that “Britain’s friendship with China is only superficial”.