The family of a UK consulate worker detained in mainland China during a trip from Hong Kong nearly two weeks ago have voiced their fears for his safety, saying they “feel very helpless”.
Their comments came shortly before China confirmed that Simon Cheng, 28, had been sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention in the Chinese city of Shenzhen.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Cheng had violated China’s Public Security Administration Punishment Law, according to state media. He offered no further details.
Cheng, 28, who works in the British consulate in Hong Kong as a trade and investment officer for Scottish Development International, travelled to Shenzhen on 8 August on business. He sent messages to his girlfriend as he was about to cross the border at about 10pm but has not been heard of since, according to his family. “We lost contact with him since then,” his family said in a statement posted on Facebook on Wednesday. “We feel very helpless and are worried sick about Simon. We hope Simon can return to Hong Kong as soon as possible.”
A rally was held outside the British consulate on Wednesday over the Cheng’s detention and a sit-in rally will be held on Wednesday night at Yuen Long metro station, where an indiscriminate violent attack on commuters happened a month ago.
Around two dozen supporters turned up outside the British consulate to demand the British government to save Cheng.
“Save Simon now, delay no more. FCO, do your duty!” they shouted.
“England expects every man to do his duty, and we expect every British politician will honour his words,” said Michael Mo, an acquaintance of Cheng and an organiser of the rally.
“This has happened amid such a sensitive time. China is taking measures to control and monitor Hong Kong people. This is white terror,” said Kelvin Chu, a teacher.
The news comes amid reports in recent weeks that the many Hong Kong people are being interrogated when they enter mainland China. Many say they were taken into rooms and questioned upon their arrival and had messages and photos on their phones and computers checked, along with any physical documents they were carrying. Cheng’s detention comes amid more than two months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that have threatened Beijing’s authority over the city. His case has sparked new fears among Hong Kong people regarding their personal safety.
His girlfriend, Li, said earlier that Cheng had not participated in the protests or expressed his position on the movement publicly.
The family said that after they reported Cheng’s disappearance to the Hong Kong authorities, the immigration department told them that Cheng had been put under administrative detention on the mainland. The department said it had no information on his whereabouts, the reason for his detention or how long he would be detained. The family were also told they could travel to mainland China to report his disappearance to local police.
Until Wednesday, Cheng’s family said they had not received any formal notification of his detention, which is supposed to be sent to a detainee’s family within 24 hours.
Their lawyer has since confirmed that Cheng’s case is being handled by police in Shenzhen, a Chinese city that borders Hong Kong, but his whereabouts remain unknown.
Hong Kong senior superintendent Kong Wing-cheung told reporters on Tuesday that police had not received any notification from mainland authorities on the case under the “reciprocal notification mechanism”, public broadcaster RTHK reported.
In a separate statement on Wednesday, Hong Kong police said an “active investigation” was under way and that police have maintained “close contact with relevant authorities in the mainland” and kept in touch with his family.
Cheng holds a British national (overseas) passport, which does not grant residence rights in the United Kingdom, nor consular services in mainland China. His girlfriend believes he travelled to China on a travel document called “home return permit” used by most Hong Kong Chinese while entering China.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has expressed “extreme concern” on Cheng’s detention but the British consulate in Hong Kong said it had no further information on Cheng on Wednesday.