'We feel helpless': Hong Kong family voice fears for detained UK consulate worker
The family of a UK consulate worker detained in mainland China during a trip from Hong Kong nearly two weeks ago have voiced their fears for his safety, saying they “feel very helpless”.
Their comments came shortly before China confirmed that Simon Cheng, 28, had been sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention in the Chinese city of Shenzhen.
Geng Shuang, a foreign ministry spokesman, said Cheng had violated China’s public security administration punishment law, according to state media. He offered no further details.
Cheng, 28, who works in the British consulate in Hong Kong as a trade and investment officer for Scottish Development International, travelled to Shenzhen on 8 August on business. He sent messages to his girlfriend as he was about to cross the border at about 10pm but has not been heard from since, according to his family.
“We lost contact with him since then,” his family said in a statement posted on Facebook on Wednesday. “We feel very helpless and are worried sick about Simon. We hope Simon can return to Hong Kong as soon as possible.”
A rally was held outside the British consulate on Wednesday in protest at Cheng’s detention and a sit-in rally was held at Yuen Long metro station, where an indiscriminate violent attack on commuters took place a month ago.
About two dozen supporters turned up outside the British consulate to demand the British government intervene. “Save Simon now, delay no more. FCO [the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office], do your duty!” they shouted.
“England expects every man to do his duty, and we expect every British politician will honour his words,” said Michael Mo, an acquaintance of Cheng and an organiser of the rally.
“This has happened amid such a sensitive time,” said Kelvin Chu, a teacher, referring to the fact Cheng’s detention comes as a series of protests continue to roil Hong Kong, sparked by a bill – now withdrawn – that would have allowed extradition to mainland China.
“China is taking measures to control and monitor Hong Kong people,” he added. “This is white terror.”
There have been reports in recent weeks that many Hong Kong residents are being interrogated when they enter mainland China. Many say they were taken into rooms and questioned upon their arrival and had messages and photos on their phones and computers checked, along with any physical documents they were carrying.
Cheng’s detention comes amid more than two months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that have threatened Beijing’s authority over the city. His case has sparked fresh fears among Hong Kong people regarding their personal safety.
His girlfriend, Li, said earlier that Cheng had not participated in the protests or expressed his position on the movement publicly.
The family said that after they reported Cheng’s disappearance to the Hong Kong authorities, the immigration department told them Cheng had been put under administrative detention on the mainland. The department said it had no information on his whereabouts, the reason for his detention or how long he would be detained. The family were also told they could travel to mainland China to report his disappearance to local police.
Until Wednesday, Cheng’s family said they had not received any formal notification of his detention, which is supposed to be sent to a detainee’s family within 24 hours.
Their lawyer has since confirmed that Cheng’s case is being handled by police in Shenzhen, a Chinese city that borders Hong Kong, but his whereabouts remain unknown.
The Hong Kong senior superintendent, Kong Wing-cheung, told reporters on Tuesday that police had not received any notification from mainland authorities on the case under the “reciprocal notification mechanism”, the public broadcaster RTHK reported.
In a separate statement on Wednesday, Hong Kong police said an “active investigation” was under way and that police had maintained “close contact with relevant authorities in the mainland” and kept in touch with his family.
Cheng holds a British national (overseas) passport, which does not grant residence rights in the UK, nor consular services in mainland China. His girlfriend believes he travelled to China on a travel document called a “home return permit” used by most Hong Kong Chinese while entering China.
The UK Foreign Office has expressed “extreme concern” over Cheng’s detention. The British consulate in Hong Kong said on Wednesday it had no further information on Cheng.
Meanwhile, hundreds staged a sit-in rally at the out-of-town Yuen Long metro station on Wednesday night to mark a violent attack on commuters and protesters there a month ago.
On 21 July, after a mass protest on Hong Kong Island, dozens of men clad in white T-shirts rushed into the station late at night and indiscriminately beat travellers both inside the station and on trains with canes and wooden sticks. Police were widely criticised for being absent during the attack which lasted nearly 30 minutes.
On Wednesday night, hundreds of protesters dressed in black T-shirts and wearing medical masks began to fill up the concourse of the Yuen Long station from 7pm local time. Many shouted slogans frequently used in the recent wave of anti-extradition protests such as “Reclaim Hong Kong, revolution of our time!” before the crowds stood up at 8pm to observe a five-minute silence. Many covered one eye in a gesture to symbolise their solidarity with a young woman who was badly injured in one of the protests in August.
“The Hong Kong spirit cannot be beaten!” said a spray-painted slogan on the ground outside the station.
Earlier in the evening, several police vans were seen outside the station and dozens of riot police officers were standing guard. Protesters shouted verbal abuse at them, accusing the police of colluding with attackers in Yuen Long to dampen the anti-government protests.
At a press conference organised earlier, protesters wearing black T-shirts, hard hats, dark glasses and covered their faces with scarves condemned police’s use of teargas, rubber bullets and beanbag rounds to target civilians and journalists. They also accused the government of condoning violent attacks by rural clans and gangsters on protesters. They noted that although dozens of attackers in Yuen Long have been arrested, none has so far been prosecuted.