Chinese state media are reporting that a staffer at the British Consulate General in Hong Kong, who has been detained in Shenzhen City, is being held for solicitation of prostitution.
“Simon Cheng violated item 66 of the Public Security Administration Punishment Law on Aug. 9, and has been punished with 15 days administrative detention,” state-run tabloid Global Times said in an Aug. 22 report, citing police in the Luohu district of Shenzhen. Item 66 covers prostitution.
Those who solicit prostitution can be detained for 10 to 15 days, with a maximum fine of 5,000 yuan (around $706).
The Global Times further claimed that Luohu police didn’t notify Cheng’s family about the “illegal behavior,” at his request.
According to Cheng’s family, who released a statement about his disappearance on Aug. 21, Cheng went to neighboring Shenzhen City for a business trip on the morning of Aug. 8 and planned to return to Hong Kong that evening by high-speed rail. At about 10 p.m., Cheng sent text messages to his girlfriend when he was about to pass through customs. The family then lost contact with him.
After Cheng’s disappearance, the UK government tried to contact him.
Geng Shuang, the spokesman of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, condemned the UK government at an Aug. 21 press conference, claiming that it had no right to intervene.
“First of all, I want to clarify one point, which is that this staffer is a Chinese Hong Kong citizen, not a British one. In other words, he is a Chinese person,” he said, adding that the case is “not a diplomatic issue.”
Upon the Global Times’ report being published, a Facebook page set up by Cheng’s family posted the following commentary on Aug. 22: “[Cheng] was named a prostitution client. Everyone can keep on taking [Beijing’s words] as a joke.”
Hong Kong netizens faulted Beijing’s explanation, pointing out the fallacy of hiring a prostitute while en route on a train.
To Hongkongers, the case is similar to the disappearance of five local booksellers in 2015, who were all later detained in mainland China. The booksellers managed stores in the Causeway Bay area and published books critical of the Chinese leadership.
Four of the booksellers were detained when they visited mainland China. Gui Minhai, a Swedish national, was detained by a special Chinese police task force while he was in Thailand.
After a disappearance of several months, Guangdong provincial authorities confirmed in February 2016 that all five had been taken into custody. Gui is still detained, on allegations of traffic violations, while the other four have since been released.
Lam Wing-kee, who was released in June 2016, organized a press conference upon returning to Hong Kong, explaining how Chinese police detained him when he passed through customs. He was then handcuffed, blindfolded, and sent to Ningbo City by train. There, police interrogated him for information related to the bookstore and his clients. He was released only after promising to provide more details about his clients, Lam said.
This isn’t the first time authorities have used the prostitution offense to detain someone. In 2016, a Chinese civil servant named Lei Yang was accused of hiring a prostitute at a foot massage shop in Beijing.
Lei was detained by police and died an hour later; police said that he died due to a heart attack.
Lei’s wife disputed the police account and said Lei left home in the evening to pick up a relative, and had only passed by the massage shop. He was transported to a hospital with no vital signs, while his corpse had severe head and bodily injuries, leading Lei’s family to believe he was tortured during police custody.