Ex-UK consulate worker from Hong Kong claims Chinese secret police tortured him during 2-week detention
A Hong Kong man who worked for the United Kingdom’s Hong Kong consulate has claimed he was tortured in China when he was arrested for two weeks in August 2019.
In separate interviews with major publications such as the BBC and Wall Street Journal, Simon Cheng, 29, provided details about his arrest and treatment at the hands of the Chinese, who he said accused him of inciting political unrest in Hong Kong and betraying the motherland.
The Hong Kong citizen had worked for the UK government for almost two years when he was detained for 15 days on a trip to mainland China in August.
“I was shackled, blindfolded and hooded,” Cheng told the BBC.
BBC reported that UK government sources say they found Cheng’s claims credible.
Cheng said he was beaten and forced to sign confessions.
However, after his release from China, Cheng has lost his job at the consulate.
His lengthy detention with the Chinese secret police had made him a risk factor.
He was made to resign, but the UK government has provided him with assistance, including a two-year working visa for the UK.
But all these might not be enough as Cheng said he does not feel safe and is looking to gain asylum in another country.
The British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has now summoned the Chinese ambassador.
Raab told the BBC: “We are outraged by the disgraceful mistreatment that Mr Cheng faced when he was in detention in mainland China… and we’ve made clear that we expect the Chinese authorities to review and hold to account those responsible.”
The Chinese authorities did not responded to the BBC’s request for comment.
What Simon Cheng said
Cheng’s interviews essentially challenge the claims of China’s account of events.
Cheng even claimed he saw other Hongkongers in Chinese custody when he was in locked-up.
This is a claim that will not sit easy with Hongkongers who already fear their way of life being eroded by China’s encroachment.
“They said they work for the secret service and that there are no human rights,” Cheng told the BBC.
“Then they started the torture.”
Who is Simon Cheng?
Cheng worked as a trade and investment officer at the UK consulate.
He was tasked with drumming up interest in investing in Scotland among the Chinese business community.
This necessitated his frequent travelling to mainland China.
He was also instructed by the British Consulate to collect information about the status of the protests in Hong Kong, which at that time was relatively fresh.
He was paid for this overtime work of observing and not directing the protests.
Embassies have a history of monitoring civil society work without becoming participants.
On Aug. 8, Cheng was sent by the consulate to a business conference in Shenzhen.
He had to cross the border from Hong Kong to China via the Hong Kong-Shenzhen high-speed rail link that opened in 2018.
The West Kowloon station is right smack in the heart of Hong Kong, but it has Chinese security posts set up with Chinese personnel on duty.
Emails still on his phone at that time linked Cheng to the protests observation work he was doing.
Returning to Hong Kong from his business trip, he was stopped.
He told BBC he was put on a train, transported back to Shenzhen and handed over to three plainclothes officers from China’s National Security Police.
Subsequently, in lock-up, he was handcuffed and had his hands raised via a chain above his head.
He was questioned about his involvement in the protests, and confessions were extracted from him about fomenting unrest on behalf of the British.
He said he was made to squat against a wall for hours on end, which was to hold a stress position, and beaten on the ankles or any other bony protruding parts if he moved.
He claimed he was subjected to sleep deprivation, with his interrogators forcing him to sing the Chinese national anthem to keep himself awake.
Cheng was also allegedly made to name names as he was shown a large pile of more than 1,000 photographs of Hong Kong protesters.
Cheng was allegedly also made to open his mobile phone using the facial recognition function.
He said he was strapped to a chair and held by his hair for the phone to unlock.
The police printed off the emails detailing the information he’d passed to the UK consulate about the protests.
The police then made him record two video confessions.
One video was for the “betrayal of the motherland” and another for “soliciting prostitution“.
What did Cheng do in Shenzhen?
Some details BBC reported about Cheng’s activities in Shenzhen were not fully transparent as they touched Cheng’s personal life.
For example, Cheng revealed he had a mainland Chinese friend who’d been arrested for taking part in the Hong Kong protests and was now on bail there.
When Cheng went on his business trip to Shenzhen, he met the relatives of this friend to collect money for his living expenses — all without the knowledge of the UK consulate.
Such a move might have put him under Chinese surveillance — and a fact that would be picked up by Chinese online commenters ready to poke holes in Cheng’s account.
Cheng also appeared evasive about the charge that he sought the services of a prostitute.
When asked point-blank by the BBC interviewer if he sought out a sex worker, Cheng replied: “I don’t want to focus on the question of whether I solicited a prostitute, because that’s exactly what they want.”
“So, I just want to state clearly that I did nothing regrettable to the people I cherish and love.”
His statement given to the Chinese police had stated he stopped by in Shenzhen for a massage.
Cheng’s ordeal not over
But Cheng has since published his own detailed account on Facebook of what happened to him shortly after his release.
By his own recollection, he said that his treatment suddenly improved on the 11th day of his detention.
This date coincided with the first international media reports about his disappearance.
UK government sources said intense diplomatic activity behind the scenes was already under way to try to secure Cheng’s release.
But his ordeal is not entirely over.
Cheng claimed he was told by the Chinese that he cannot do any interviews that deviated from the talking point about him being arrested for “soliciting prostitution”.
Otherwise, he will be taken back to mainland China from Hong Kong.
Cheng also told the BBC that he believes it is too dangerous for him to return to Hong Kong.