UK consulate employee back in HK after China detention

Simon Cheng disappeared after visiting Shenzhen on Aug 8 and was placed in administrative detention by police.
Simon Cheng disappeared after visiting Shenzhen on Aug 8 and was placed in administrative detention by police.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG • A British consulate employee detained in China has returned to Hong Kong, his family said, ending a two-week ordeal during which Beijing's state media smeared him with lurid allegations.

Mr Simon Cheng disappeared after visiting the neighbouring city of Shenzhen on Aug 8 and was placed in administrative detention by the police, unable to contact his family or his British employer.

He was returning to Hong Kong on a high-speed train and sent messages to his girlfriend as he was about to go through Customs, shortly before he was stopped by the Chinese authorities.

In a statement posted on the Twitter-like Weibo, Shenzhen police said Mr Cheng was "punished with administrative detention for 15 days... for violating the law of the People's Republic of China on public safety management".

Yesterday, Mr Cheng's family announced his return.

"Simon has returned to Hong Kong," his family said in a Facebook post, adding that he would take "some time to rest and recover".

Mr Cheng was released yesterday as the term had expired, the police said, adding that he had "confessed to the facts of his illegal activity", but without saying what he was accused of. The incident came as relations between Britain and China have become strained over what Beijing calls London's "interference" in pro-democracy protests that have racked Hong Kong for the past three months.

Chinese state media has published unproven allegations about Mr Cheng and the possible reason for his detention.

The Global Times, a state-run tabloid, said he had been held for "soliciting prostitutes", citing the police in Shenzhen.

 
 

In an editorial on Friday, the tabloid said it was at Mr Cheng's request that the police did not contact his family and that "thanks to the British foreign ministry and media, which have been hyping it, the case is now fully exposed".

But a Facebook page run by Mr Cheng's family dismissed the report of solicitation.

"This is a made-up crime of soliciting prostitution, everyone should see it's a joke," the post said.

Since the demonstrations, the Chinese authorities have increased inspections at the border, including checking the mobile phones and devices of some people for photos of the protests.

Beijing has faced criticism previously for detaining foreign nationals during diplomatic spats and for accusing dissidents or activists of sex crimes.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 25, 2019, with the headline 'UK consulate employee back in HK after China detention'. Print Edition | Subscribe