UK consulate staffer returns to HK after China detention

Simon Cheng
An activist holds an illustration of Simon Cheng during a gathering outside the British Consulate-General building in Hong Kong on August 21, 2019, following reports that the Hong Kong consulate employee had been detained by mainland Chinese authorities on his way back to the city. An employee of Britain's consulate in Hong Kong who went missing earlier this month is being held in China, Beijing confirmed on August 21. / AFP / Anthony WALLACE

HONG KONG — A British consulate employee detained in China has returned to Hong Kong, his family said Saturday.

Simon Cheng disappeared after visiting the neighbouring city of Shenzhen on August 8 and was placed in administrative detention by police.

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

Cheng was returning to Hong Kong via high-speed train on August 8 and sent messages to his girlfriend as he was about to go through customs.

But he vanished without contact for several days before Beijing confirmed he had been taken into custody by police in Shenzhen for breaking a public security law.

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

Cheng was released Saturday as the term had expired, the police said, adding 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 wracked Hong Kong for three months.

While in detention Chinese-state media published lurid allegations about Cheng and the possible reason for his detention.

The Global Times, a tabloid state-run newspaper, said he had been detained for “soliciting prostitutes”, citing police in Shenzhen.

In an editorial on Friday, the tabloid said it was at Cheng’s request that 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 Cheng’s family dismissed the report of solicitation.