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Former U.K. Consulate Staffer In Hong Kong Says He Was Tortured In Mainland China

Simon Cheng, pictured in this poster, went missing on Aug. 9 after visiting the mainland China city of Shenzhen. The Hong Kong citizen and former staff member at the U.K. consulate says he was tortured while being held by Chinese police.
Willy Kurniawan
Simon Cheng, pictured in this poster, went missing on Aug. 9 after visiting the mainland China city of Shenzhen. The Hong Kong citizen and former staff member at the U.K. consulate says he was tortured while being held by Chinese police.

A Hong Kong citizen who worked for the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong says secret police officers tortured him in mainland China, accusing him of being a spy and working to agitate pro-democracy protests.

In a lengthy Facebook post, Simon Cheng says he was beaten, put into stress positions and deprived of sleep for a roughly two-week period in August after Chinese police detained him at a train station at Hong Kong's border with the mainland.

Cheng, 29, says he had been trying to return home from a brief trip to nearby Shenzhen, China. Instead, he says he spent days strapped to a metal "tiger chair," blindfolded and hooded as authorities tried to extract information. He adds that the police also accused the U.K. of fomenting violent unrest in Hong Kong.

"The U.K. government has summoned China's ambassador in London to complain," NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from London. "The Chinese government denies Cheng's claims and has summoned the U.K. ambassador to express its 'indignation.' "

Cheng says he worked for the consulate for roughly two years, and he acknowledges his personal support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. But he says he has done nothing illegal, and he adds that while the British consulate told staff members to collect information about the protests, their goal was to update safety alerts and keep an eye out for any British citizens who might be involved.

Cheng says he was repeatedly interrogated by both regular and secret police who wanted him to confess to being a spy — an accusation Cheng denies.

The details fill in a gap during August, when Cheng was the subject of a missing-person report in Hong Kong after disappearing on Aug. 9. He also was the focus of a small demonstration on Aug. 21, when the exterior wall of the British Consulate-General office was papered with "Missing" posters featuring his image.

During his detention, Cheng says, Chinese police repeatedly sought access to his iPhone. He says he initially refused because the phone "contains sensitive work information and private conversations (including political comments criticizing authorities) with friends." According to the BBC, Cheng had worked as a trade and investment officer at the U.K. consulate.

Cheng writes:

"I was handcuffed and interrogated within the detention center; secret police arrived and the detention center staff and correctional officers monitored the whole process. Secret police forced me to open my iPhone by grabbing my hair to do the facial recognition. The interrogator said: 'We suspect you are a British spy and secret agent.' After they used violence, I gave my passcode.

"Correctional officers and detention center staff seemed a bit shocked when they saw the violence. Secret police asked them to lock me up with handcuffs on the bar attached to the tiger chair. Although they seemed hesitant, they followed the orders to do so."

After the first week of his detention, Cheng says, he was unable to walk. He says secret police gave him ointment and oil to try to make severe bruises on his ankles, thighs, wrists and knees dissipate more quickly. And he adds that authorities ordered him to lie to doctors at the detention center about his injuries.

Chinese interrogators allegedly wanted Cheng to confess to helping to incite the protests — and to say that the U.K. is instigating "riots" in Hong Kong and supporting violence there. Cheng says these interactions were often filmed.

On Facebook, Cheng denies the validity of a "confession" that was obtained during his detention. He described it as carefully stage-managed, reading from a script and filming multiple takes of his apology and confession on camera so that authorities could choose the best recording.

He notes that he was initially told his detention would last 15 days, but that police also threatened to send him to prison for two years.

"Interrogators said although my words and actions against the country and the party had been practiced in Hong Kong, I can be punished based on Mainland law once in Mainland China, as Hong Kong is a part of China," Cheng writes — reflecting a broad concern among protesters in Hong Kong.

Cheng says he initially traveled to Shenzhen on Aug. 8, and that he was finally released on the morning of Aug. 24. After being granted a paid leave of absence from his job at the consulate, he says he resigned this month.

"I have fled to a third place and foreign country for security reasons," he writes.

China's ambassador to the U.K., Liu Xiaoming, acknowledges via Twitter that Cheng was placed under a 15-day administrative detention. He adds, "He confessed all his offences. All his lawful rights & interests were guaranteed in accordance with law."

Liu also said the situation in Hong Kong " is not about so-called democracy or freedom, but purely extreme violence and criminal offence." Criticizing the British government's statements about the situation, he called on the country to "immediately stop any form of interference in Hong Kong affairs, which are China's internal affairs."

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has issued a statement saying, "Simon Cheng was a valued member of our team. We were shocked and appalled by the mistreatment he suffered while in Chinese detention, which amounts to torture."

Raab adds that his office is "working to support Simon and his fiancée," adding that their options include the possibility of moving to the U.K.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.