Simon Cheng Man-kit, a Hong Kong resident working as a consultant for the UK Consulate, went missing Aug. 8 while attending a business meeting in Shenzhen, the southern Chinese city that borders Hong Kong.
Cheng has been released by the Chinese police after a 15-day period of “administrative detention,” and returned to Hong Kong on Aug. 24, according to his family.
On Aug. 21, the Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed that Cheng had been detained. Prior to that, Cheng’s girlfriend, a Taiwanese woman surnamed Lee, told Hong Kong media HK01 that Cheng had not shown up to work on Aug. 9.
The development comes as Hong Kong simmers with popular opposition to a Beijing-backed extradition bill, which would allow the communist regime in mainland China to detain anyone in Hong Kong.
On Aug. 21, around 50 Hongkongers rallied to demand Cheng’s release. There, a British consular official met with the organizers and told them the consulate was in contact with their employee’s family.
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The next day, editor of the Chinese state-run Global Times tabloid, wrote on Twitter claiming that Cheng had been detained for seeing a prostitute while in Shenzhen, and implied that this was the reason why the Chinese police had not informed his family of the detention.
According to Chinese law, the police must inform the family of their relatives’ detention within 24 hours.
“Police didn’t contact his family [as] requested by Cheng. Police are willing to help reduce damage to his reputation, UK diplomats and media ruined him,” Hu wrote.
Cheng’s family has refuted Hu’s tweet and a Global Times report to the same effect, saying: “We can all take this as a joke.”
A Twitter user from Hong Kong noted that Cheng had spent 17 minutes traveling from Hong Kong on the newly opened Express Rail Link to his meeting in Shenzhen on the morning of Aug. 8, and would have hardly been able to solicit a prostitute in that timeframe.
Others pointed to the incident as a demonstration of how dangerous an extradition law would be for the freedoms Hongkongers enjoy.
On Aug. 20, a Facebook page was created to support Simon Cheng, where many users left comments.
“This case demonstrates very clearly why HK people object to the introduction of Extradition Law from the very beginning!” wrote a user called Man Shun Tam.
Another user, Christina Lai, said: “Before the extradition bill is even passed, [the Chinese regime] has already sent someone to China.”
Since early June, millions of Hongkongers have participated in demonstrations to protest the extradition bill.
Geng Shuang, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman who confirmed Cheng’s detention, said that the case was a Chinese “internal affair.”
In a statement released to the media hours before Geng Shuang’s press briefing, Cheng’s family said they had contacted three detention centers in the Shenzhen area, as well as Guangzhou, another city in the Pearl River Delta, and public security authorities, but could not determine where Simon Cheng was being held.
“We feel very helpless, and are worried sick about Simon. We hope that Simon can return to Hong Kong as soon as possible,” they said at the time.