A staff member at the British consulate in Hong Kong who was detained in mainland China has been released, his family said on Saturday, ending an ordeal that lasted more than two weeks.
“Simon [Cheng] has returned to Hong Kong. Thanks to everyone for your support!” said an online message from Rescue Simon Cheng Facebook page run by his family and friends. It said Cheng and his family needed “time and space” to rest and recover and would not take any interviews for the moment.
Simon Cheng, 28, a trade and investment officer for Scottish Development International, travelled to Shenzhen, a city that borders Hong Kong, on the morning of 8 August. He disappeared after sending messages to his girlfriend as he was about to cross back over the border at about 10pm.
Earlier this week, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said Cheng had violated China’s public security administration punishment law and had been made to serve 15 days of administrative detention in Shenzhen.
He was later accused by Chinese state media of visiting prostitutes, although his friends and family have suggested they did not believe this. They said earlier that “the truth is in people’s hearts”. The accusation is often used by the Chinese authorities to smear the reputation of government critics.
Cheng’s detention comes amid Hong Kong’s largest political crisis in decades. More than two months of non-stop pro-democracy protests have threatened Beijing’s authority over the city. Last Sunday, more than a million Hong Kong residents defied a police ban and poured into the streets in a peaceful march, calling for the withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill and making other demands.
His friends and family did not know why he was detained. Cheng’s girlfriend, Li, said earlier he had not participated in pro-democracy protests or publicly expressed his position on the movement.
Reports have emerged that many Hong Kong residents have been interrogated upon entering mainland China, taken into rooms, their messages and photos on their phones and computers checked along with documents they carried.
China has a long history of arresting dissidents, activists and government critics on trumped up sex or financial crimes.
The British consulate in Hong Kong has been contacted for comment.