Family of detained UK consulate worker rejects ‘made-up’ report

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said Simon Cheng is not a UK citizen, he is an employee of the British Consulate. (File/AFP)
Updated 23 August 2019

Family of detained UK consulate worker rejects ‘made-up’ report

  • Simon Cheng disappeared after visiting Shenzhen on August 8
  • Beijing confirmed they detained an employee of a British consulate

BEIJING: The family of a staffer at the UK consulate in Hong Kong have rejected a “made-up” report by Chinese state media that he was detained in the mainland for visiting prostitutes.
Simon Cheng disappeared after visiting the city of Shenzhen from the semi-autonomous city on August 8, and the Foreign Office in London said both British officials and relatives have been unable to speak to him since.
The Global Times, a tabloid state-run newspaper, said he had been detained for “soliciting prostitutes,” citing police in Shenzhen, which lies on the China-Hong Kong border.
But a Facebook page run by Cheng’s family dismissed the report.
“This is a made-up crime of soliciting prostitution, everyone should see it’s a joke,” the comment said.
Beijing confirmed Wednesday an employee of the British consulate had been “placed in administrative detention for 15 days as punishment” by police in Shenzhen for breaking a public security law.
“Let me clarify, this employee is a Hong Kong citizen, he’s not a UK citizen, which is also saying he’s a Chinese person,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
According to the Global Times, Cheng could be detained for up to 15 days and fined up to 5,000 yuan ($700) for the alleged crime.
In an editorial on Friday, the tabloid said it was at Cheng’s request that police did not contact his family and that “thanks to the British foreign ministry and media, which have been hyping it, the case is now fully exposed.”
Cheng was in the process of returning via high-speed train on August 8 and sent messages to his girlfriend as he was about to go through customs.
He has not been seen or heard from since.
The family said it had hired a lawyer in Shenzhen who had been unable to find or speak to the detained consulate employee.
Police in Shenzhen did not reply to AFP’s request for comment.
A spokesperson for the British Foreign Office said in a statement Thursday that it was continuing “to urgently seek further information about Simon’s case.”
The incident comes 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.
China promised to respect the freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory after its handover from Britain in 1997 — including freedom of speech, unfettered access to the Internet and an independent judiciary — but protesters say these rights are being eroded.
Chinese authorities have increased their inspections at the border since the protests, including checking the phones and devices of some passengers for photos of the demonstrations.
Beijing has faced criticism in the past for detaining foreign nationals amid ongoing diplomatic spats, and for accusing dissidents or activists of sex crimes.


US service member killed in action in Afghanistan

Updated 36 min 23 sec ago

US service member killed in action in Afghanistan

  • The death brings the number of US military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan this year to at least 17
  • The latest US fatality comes after talks between Washington and the Taliban crumbled.

KABUL: An American service member was killed in Afghanistan, the US-led NATO mission said Monday, the latest US fatality after talks between Washington and the Taliban crumbled.
“A US service member was killed in action today in Afghanistan,” NATO’s Resolute Support mission said in a brief statement.
The death brings the number of US military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan this year to at least 17, just as Washington is seeking a way out of its longest war.
NATO did not immediately provide any additional information regarding the circumstances of the deadly incident.
About a week ago, President Donald Trump abruptly called off talks with the Taliban, which were aimed at paving the way for an American withdrawal from Afghanistan following 18 years of armed conflict.
“They are dead. As far as I am concerned, they are dead,” Trump said.
The announcement followed Trump’s cancelation of a top-secret plan to fly Taliban leaders and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to the Camp David presidential compound outside Washington for talks.
Trump in part blamed the death of a US soldier in a huge Taliban bombing in Kabul for his change of heart on negotiations.
Until the talks were called off, there had been steadily mounting expectations of a deal that would see the US draw down troop levels in Afghanistan — from roughly 13,000 to about 8,000 next year.
In return, the Taliban would offer security guarantees to keep extremist groups out.
Last week, NATO said the focus of its Resolute Support mission remained “unchanged” — to train and advise local forces.
“NATO will stay in Afghanistan for as long as necessary to ensure the country never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists,” an alliance official told AFP.