British consulate worker in Hong Kong held for more than two weeks in mainland China finally released, family says in Facebook statement

Zoe Low

A British consulate employee in Hong Kong who was detained in mainland China for more than two weeks has been released, according to a statement by his family on social media.

Simon Cheng Man-kit, 28, a trade and investment officer at the consulate’s Scottish Development International section, was held for 15 days under administrative detention in Shenzhen – a city neighbouring Hong Kong – for what mainland police said was “solicitation of prostitution”.

China confirms detention of British consulate trade officer Simon Cheng

“Simon has returned to Hong Kong; thank you everyone for your support,” the statement on the Facebook page “Release Simon Cheng” said on Saturday. It asked for space to allow Cheng to rest before taking any interviews.

Activists earlier gather outside the British embassy in Hong Kong, following reports that Simon Cheng had been detained by mainland Chinese authorities. Photo: AFP

Cheng’s detention came at the height of Hong Kong’s anti-government protests, triggered by the now-shelved extradition bill that would have allowed the transfer of suspects to jurisdictions with which the city has no such agreement, including mainland China.

On August 8, Cheng disappeared as he was crossing the border into Hong Kong after returning from a one-day business trip to Shenzhen, according to his girlfriend. His family and lawyer were not notified and said in a statement they could not locate where he was being detained.

The Luohu branch of the Shenzhen police confirmed Cheng’s release after he served 15 days of administrative detention for “violating the public security administration punishment law”. It said Cheng’s legitimate rights were protected during detention and he “admitted to the crimes” he had committed.

Britain in urgent quest for contact with Hong Kong consulate employee

On Wednesday the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the detention, and stressed it was not a diplomatic matter. “I also want to stress that this worker is a Hong Kong citizen – not a British citizen – and he is Chinese. And this is entirely a matter of China’s internal affairs,” ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said. He reiterated the message on Friday.

Geng also warned Britain to stop meddling in Hong Kong and Chinese internal affairs.

“We urge them to stop making irresponsible remarks, stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs and stop pointing fingers and making accusations,” he said.

Following Cheng’s detention, the British government updated its travel advisory for Hong Kong to warn of increased scrutiny by mainland authorities at border crossings in the city. “This includes reports that travellers’ electronic devices have been checked ... You should be aware that the thresholds for detention and prosecution in China differ from those in Hong Kong,” the warning stated.

A UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson on Saturday said: “We welcome the release of Cheng and are delighted that he can be reunited with his family. We will continue to provide support to them. Cheng and his family have requested privacy and we would be grateful if that is respected.”

Meanwhile, the Canadian consulate in Hong Kong suspended all work travel, including to mainland China, for its local staff. The Australian, Mexican and South Korean consulates do not yet have suspensions in place, while the Italian consulate said its Hong Kong staff did not need to travel to the mainland as it had three branches there.

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