Former British consulate employee Simon Cheng, who was detained by mainland authorities for 15 days in August after visiting Shenzhen, has claimed he was tortured and pressed for information about activists in Hong Kong’s anti-government protests.
The 29-year-old Hongkonger said he was now no longer in the city and in a “vulnerable position”, having received little support over the past three months.
He said the consulate asked him to resign from his job in November, although sources told the SCMP he might have left on his own. Cheng did not reveal where he is now, but said he was seeking asylum to find a place to settle with his fiancée and get a job.
He gave details of his treatment during detention in a lengthy Facebook post on Wednesday and in an interview to the BBC, sparking a war of words between Britain and officials in China and Hong Kong.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he summoned the Chinese ambassador in London to express outrage at Cheng’s alleged mistreatment.
While Cheng complained that he received scant support since August, Raab said Britain would look into allowing him and his fiancée to settle there.
Chinese foreign affairs ministry spokesman Geng Shuang insisted that this was not a diplomatic matter and rejected all remarks made by the British.
Mainland authorities have maintained that Cheng broke the law while in Shenzhen by soliciting prostitution and was detained for that.
In his statement, Cheng gives a detailed, chronological account of what happened to him from August 8, when the consulate sent him to Shenzhen for a business conference.
While there, he said, he met the parents of a mainlander who took part in the Hong Kong protests, to “bring money back for his living cost to go through the judicial process”. He also went for a massage “for relaxation after work hours”.
He returned to Hong Kong the same day by high-speed rail but on reaching the Kowloon terminal, he was stopped at the mainland checkpoint and put back on a train to Shenzhen.
Over the next 15 days, he said he was moved to different locations, kept blindfolded and shackled and was beaten during questioning, and locked up alone most of the time.
He said his interrogators, whom he believed were secret police, pressed him to reveal what he knew of the Hong Kong protests and especially if the British had a hand in instigating the unrest.
Although Cheng was a trade officer, he was assigned overtime work to do research into the protests and send reports to his bosses. Some of his messages were sent from his smartphone and his interrogators demanded that he reveal its password. He refused initially.
He said he was kept buckled to a torture chair that prevented him from moving, deprived of sleep and accused of being a British spy and secret agent. At one point, he was grabbed by the hair in an attempt to unlock his phone by facial recognition.
“I was interrogated for days and days, hours after hours,” Cheng said.
He also said: “I was hung [handcuffed and shackled] on a steep X-Cross doing a spread-eagled pose for hours after hours. I was forced to keep my hands up, so blood cannot be pumped up my arms. It felt extremely painful.”
At another point, he said: “When the secret police took me out of the detention centre, I was handcuffed, shackled, blindfolded and hooded (so it was hard to breathe). I was not allowed to wear glasses from the very beginning, so I kept feeling dizzy and suffocated.”
He said he finally revealed his phone password after being tortured.
Cheng was released after signing confessions presented to him, including that he hired a prostitute.
Asked by the BBC whether he paid for sex in Shenzhen, he declined to answer. In his Facebook post, he said: “I did no harm and did nothing I regret to anyone and all the people I love and cherish.”
Cheng, who worked at the consulate for about two years, said he was offered seven months’ paid leave. He left Hong Kong to “a third place” for security reasons and this month, he was asked to resign.
Cheng said he was speaking up now to let people know “the flawed judicial process in mainland China”.
Commenting on Cheng’s statement, Raab said: “We were shocked and appalled by the mistreatment he suffered while in Chinese detention, which amounts to torture.”
He said he summoned Chinese Ambassador Liu Xiaoming and “made clear we expect the Chinese authorities to investigate and hold those responsible to account”.
Geng said the Shenzhen Public Security Bureau had already given details of how Cheng violated China’s public security administration laws and received 15 days of administrative detention.
“During the detention period, the public security agencies had guaranteed various legitimate rights of Cheng and Cheng also confessed to his illegal acts,” he said.
He said he was not aware that Raab had summoned the ambassador, but said: “China resolutely opposes remarks of the British side on issues related to Hong Kong. We express our strong opposition over the wrong words and deeds of the British side on a series of issues concerning Hong Kong. The representation of the British side to the Chinese ambassador will not be accepted.”