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Hong Kong activist says he was ‘stapled’ over Lionel Messi photo

A Hong Kong pro-democracy activist says he was beaten and had his legs stapled by Chinese agents because he was planning to send a signed photo of Lionel Messi to a dissident’s widow.

Howard Lam, a member of Hong Kong’s Democratic party, said he was snatched on the street on Thursday, forced into a car and made to smell something that caused him to lose consciousness.

When he came to after being hit with a hard object, he was wearing only his underwear and a blindfold, Lam told reporters on Friday.

He said he was interrogated about his intention to send a picture of the Barcelona footballer Messi to Liu Xia, the widow of Nobel peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo.

“A man asked if I knew Liu Xia, and why I was doing all these things,” Lam said, according to the South China Post.

“The man also said: ‘Are you a Christian? Do you know how to love the country and the religion? … I’ll give you some crosses,’ he said, and then he stapled my legs.”

Lam showed reporters cross marks he said had been made by the staples. He said his abductors spoke Mandarin, China’s national language but rare in Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong.

Before he died of cancer while in custody last month, Liu Xiaobo wrote to Barcelona to ask for a signed photo of Messi because he thought it would cheer him up.

Lam said he had previously received a call from a Chinese person claiming to be part of the mainland intelligence service and warning him not to give the picture to Liu Xiaobo’s widow, the artist and poet Liu Xia.

He said his ordeal lasted nine hours before he eventually found himself dumped on a beach in Hong Kong’s remote Sai Kung district at 1am on Friday.

The Democratic party has railed against what it says is meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs by Communist party rulers in Beijing. The city state became a special administrative region of China in 1997, since when it has been governed under a one country, two systems formula that guarantees a range of freedoms not enjoyed in China.

The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, swore in Hong Kong’s new leader last month with a stark warning that Beijing would not tolerate any challenge to its authority in the city as it marked the 20th anniversary of its return from Britain to China.

Hong Kong’s police commissioner, Lau Wai-chung, told media he was taking Lam’s accusations seriously and officers were attaching great importance to investigating the case.

The Hong Kong and Macau affairs office of China’s state council did not comment.

Liu Xia has lived in the Chinese capital under virtual house arrest since her husband won the Nobel peace prize in December 2010. Her whereabouts since his death are a mystery and the couple’s US lawyer has claimed the Chinese authorities are behind what he says is her enforced disappearance.