Simon Cheng, a member of the British consulate staff in Hong Kong who went missing for two weeks after attending a business event in Shenzhen on August 8, has been released from Chinese custody.
According to a Facebook post, Cheng is in the company of consulate staff and friends. He has no external injury. The post said Cheng and his family would not be doing any interviews for now.
Prior to this, Hu Xijin, editor of the state-backed tabloid Global Times, tweeted on Thursday that Cheng had been detained in Shenzhen for visiting a prostitute. He claimed that Cheng had asked police in Shenzhen not to inform his family about being detained.
A newly-registered Twitter account named “Pengfeiyang” tweeted a picture and claimed that Cheng was caught in a sex den.
Picture ‘a year old’
Many citizens on the mainland have circulating the picture without doing any fact check, but people in Hong Kong quickly said the prostitution claim was unfounded – as the picture in the tweet was an old photo from a news report in 2018 published by the Taiwan Next Magazine.
Cheng’s family told Hong Kong media on Thursday that “Everyone knows it is not the truth” and that “time will tell.”
On Wednesday, Foreign Ministry confirmed that Cheng had been held in “administrative detention” for 15 days for breaking a public security law, without giving further details.
Under mainland law, people suspected of committing minor offences can be detained for up to 15 days – an arrangement that is not covered by the reciprocal notification mechanism between Mainland Public Security Authorities and the Hong Kong Police, as Cheng’s case did not involve a criminal prosecution or unnatural death.
Johnny Lau Yui-siu, an independent veteran political commentator, told Hong Kong newspapers that the prostitution accusation was one-sided which any chance for Cheng to respond.
And this sort of allegation was common when Hong Kong men “go missing” on the mainland for political reasons, Lau added, saying Hong Kongers do not easily believe such claims, especially by a state media editor.
In fact, The Global Times report said Cheng was detained by mainland police at Lo Wu but according to his family, Cheng went to the mainland by high-speed rail, which does not pass through Lo Wu.
Hu’s tweet appears to have bolstered the perception Cheng was detained to add pressure on the British government, which was accused by Beijing of organising the Hong Kong protests behind the scenes, according to an editorial published by Sing Pao on Friday.
The detention of Cheng served as a “perfect illustration of the evilness of the extradition law”, which Hong Kong people are still protesting against, political commentator Poon Siu-to wrote in Apple Daily on Friday.
It was disturbing that a Hong Konger, who could be anyone, is taken from West Kowloon Station by mainland police despite a promised co-location arrangement, Poon wrote.
Yet Hong Kong authorities were not officially notified and relatives were unable to seek help from the authorities about their missing family member, he added.