China releases UK’s Hong Kong consulate staffer

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China releases UK’s Hong Kong consulate staffer

A Chinese national working at Britain’s Hong Kong consulate has been released from detention in mainland China and has returned to the city, police and his family have said.

Simon Cheng, who was detained on August 8 for breaching public security management regulations, was released as scheduled after 15 days, authorities in the city of Shenzhen said on Saturday.

Cheng, who had travelled to Shenzhen on a business trip, “confessed to his illegal acts,” the statement said, without providing further details.

“Simon has returned to Hong Kong,” his family said in a Facebook post on Saturday, asking the “media and friends to give them some time and space, and we will explain more later”.

Cheng was returning to Hong Kong via high-speed train on August 8 and sent messages to his girlfriend as he was about to go through customs.

But he vanished without contact for several days before Beijing confirmed he had been taken into custody by police in Shenzhen for breaking a public security law.

The incident came as relations between Britain and China have become strained over what Beijing calls London’s “interference” in pro-democracy protests that have wracked Hong Kong for three months.

While in detention Chinese state media published lurid allegations about Cheng and the possible reason for his detention.

The Global Times, a tabloid state-run newspaper, said he had been detained for “soliciting prostitutes”, citing police in Shenzhen. Cheng’s family dismissed the allegations. 

‘Stringent checks’

Cheng’s detention stoked tensions in semi-autonomous Hong Kong, which has been rocked by months of anti-government protests.

On Saturday, Hong Kong’s rail operator shut down four stations ahead of a planned protest as the Chinese-ruled city braced for further unrest. 

Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay, reporting from Hong Kong, said: “The police have given permission for this rally to take place, so we don’t expect there to be any violent incidents, but this has been a very unpredictable situation over the past two and a half months or so.”

Since early June, there has been a wave of protests in the former British colony over a controversial proposed law which would allow the extradition of people to any jurisdiction in the world with which it currently has no existing formal agreement, including mainland China.

Hong Kong protests: City airport blocks future rallies

Critics argue the bill is part of a wider move by Beijing to scale back the freedoms Hong Kong enjoys under the so-called “one country, two systems” principle put in place as it was handed back to China by Britain in 1997.

Although the Hong Kong government suspended the proposed legislation amid mass protests, with Chief Executive Carrie Lam declaring it “dead”, it has refused to officially retract it.

Al Jazeera’s Hay said: “There are reports that people travelling from Hong Kong to mainland China are being subjected to more stringent checks at the border, more stringent checks of their phones, computers, with immigration officials in China allegedly trying to find any evidence on those devices that these people may have taken part in the anti-government protests.” 

Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong’s main carrier, has become the biggest corporate casualty of the protests, after China demanded it suspend staff involved in, or who support the demonstrations. 

“The suspicion among people here particularly those people who have regularly taken part in the protests is that this detention of Simon Cheng is part of a wider campaign, perhaps a new tactic by the government in China to create fear among people,” said Hay.  

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