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Fmr. UK consulate employee says Chinese secret police tortured him for 15 days

Police in China. (MaxPixel/Released)
November 20, 2019

A former employee of Britain’s consulate in Hong Kong has claimed Chinese secret police tortured him for information about pro-democracy protests that have been ongoing in the city since June.

Simon Cheng, a Hong Kong citizen and member of the British consulate’s business development team revealed the Chinese torture campaign in a series of interviews reported by the Wall Street Journal. Cheng said the goal of his captors was to extract evidence that the U.K. has bolstered support for ongoing protests in Hong Kong.

The 29-year-old Cheng said he was detained on Aug. 8 while returning to Hong Kong from a work conference relating to his consulate work. He said Chinese authorities brought him by train back into mainland Chinese territory.

Upon arriving in the city of Shenzhen, Cheng said he was handed off to plain-clothed Chinese police. Cheng said he was deprived him of sleep and those secret police members chained him spread-eagle as they beat him and worked to compel information about his ties with the British government.

At one point, Cheng said the secret police tried to unlock his phone by holding it up to his face and accessing the phone’s facial recognition featured. Fearing for his safety, Cheng reportedly gave up the passwords to his phone as well as his social-media accounts.

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He also reportedly named two British consulate officials he believed may have either a military or intelligence background. Pressed further, Cheng said he also gave details of people involved in the protests. Cheng said he tried to be as vague as he could about details despite the torture.

Cheng said he resisted efforts to compel a confession that Britain has played a role in the Hong Kong protests. He said he sensed the severity of confirming allegations Britain has supplied financial support and equipment for the protests.

After 15 days in captivity, Cheng said he was eventually released. As a final parting warning, those Chinese secret police reportedly threatened him with further retribution if he discussed the details of his captivity. Despite those warnings, Cheng told Wall Street Journal reporters he felt he needed to speak about his experience.

The months of protests began as a demonstration against an extradition bill that would remove Hong Kong residents facing legal proceedings to stand trial in mainland Chinese courts. Protesters have reportedly feared for the effect such a law would have on their independent judicial system. Cheng said his own experience at the hands of his Chinese captors showed “their fear was not ungrounded.”

Cheng’s account could not be independently verified by Wall Street Journal reporters, but his description of captivity appeared to match that of others detained during the ongoing protests.

When asked for comment by the Wall Street Journal, U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab appeared to back Cheng’s account and said he had summoned the Chinese ambassador to express his concern of the allegations.

“I have made clear we expect the Chinese authorities to investigate and hold those responsible to account,” Raab said.

Raab said what the secret police allegedly did to Cheng “amounts to torture” and threatens diplomatic relations between London and Beijing.

Chinese police did not respond to Wall Street Journal requests for comments.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Wednesday said the incident with Cheng did not amount to a diplomatic issue.

Other Chinese officials claimed Cheng was arrested and held in administrative detention for prostitution related charges. They said Cheng’s arrest would remain an internal matter as he is a Hong Kong citizen.

Cheng has denied the prostitution allegations. He called them an “arbitrary accusation” undermined by his captors’ coercion and torture efforts.