Ex-UK consulate staffer cuts ties with HK family to protect them from 'harassment'

Pro-democracy demonstrators, wearing masks depicting former British consulate worker Simon Cheng, gathering outside the British Consulate-General building in Hong Kong on Nov 29, 2019, PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - A former British consulate employee who was detained in China last year said he has cut ties with his family and relatives in Hong Kong and the mainland to avoid them being harassed.

Mr Simon Cheng's case triggered a diplomatic row between London and Beijing at a time when relations were already strained by the massive pro-democracy protests that have wracked the former British colony for months.

"I hope they can live in tranquillity and peace, without external harassment and threat," Mr Cheng said in a statement posted on his Facebook page on Thursday night (Jan 9).

"What I do and say solely represents myself; it is not relevant to my family and relatives," said Mr Cheng, who worked at the consulate in Hong Kong until late 2019.

He did not elaborate on the "harassment" and did not reply to requests for further comment.

In August last year, Mr Cheng, a Hong Kong citizen, disappeared while on a business trip to the neighbouring Chinese city of Shenzhen.

Mr Cheng said he was tortured and interrogated by Chinese secret police while he was detained there for 15 days.

Since leaving his job at the consulate, Mr Cheng has lived in self-exile in Britain where he has been campaigning for democracy in Hong Kong.

In November, he said that during his time in detention he was shackled, beaten, forced to stand for long hours and deprived of sleep by Chinese secret police, who interrogated him about what role Britain played in the Hong Kong unrest.

The protests, which were triggered by a proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China, have morphed into a wider movement for democratic freedoms and against China's tightening control over Hong Kong.

Both the governments in Beijing and Hong Kong have accused "foreign forces" of being behind the movement.

While he was in detention, Mr Cheng said, he was asked if he knew anyone who worked for British intelligence agencies, what part he had played in protests and what he knew about mainland citizens who joined the demonstrations.

Chinese police said Mr Cheng had been detained for "soliciting prostitutes", allegations his family dismissed.

Beijing has faced criticism in the past for detaining foreign nationals amid ongoing diplomatic spats, and for accusing dissidents or activists of sex crimes.

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