Former British Consulate Employee Complains to UK About China TV Forced Confession

November 28, 2019 Updated: November 28, 2019

LONDON—A former British Consulate employee in Hong Kong who says he was detained and tortured by Chinese police seeking information on protesters has complained to UK regulators that China’s state TV channel aired his forced confession.

Simon Cheng also says in his Nov. 27 complaint to communications regulator Ofcom that China Global Television Network, or CGTN, violated rules on fairness, impartiality, and accuracy by broadcasting lies in an effort to damage his credibility.

He said he was tortured by secret police in mainland China to glean information about the massive pro-democracy protests roiling Hong Kong. Chinese police acknowledge he was held for 15 days in August but gave no reasons for the detention.

Cheng recounted his ordeal for the first time this month in a lengthy online statement and media interviews.

Shortly after he broke his silence, CGTN, the international arm of China Central Television, broadcast a report with Cheng purportedly confessing to soliciting prostitutes. Cheng pointed out in his complaint that his voice is inaudible, the surveillance camera footage the channel used doesn’t back up the allegations, and he wasn’t contacted for a response.

The channel is available on free and pay-television services in Britain.

Cheng, who no longer works for the consulate and is in hiding, was assisted in filing the complaint by Safeguard Defenders, a group run by Swedish activist Peter Dahlin, who says he had a similar experience after a crackdown on his China-based human rights group.

China Media Group, which controls CGTN and other state media, didn’t respond to a request for comment in Beijing; neither did CGTN Europe managers contacted by email or through LinkedIn.

Ofcom, which has the power to issue significant fines or revoke broadcast licenses, wouldn’t confirm that it had received the complaint.

Cheng, who was working as a trade officer to attract Chinese investment to Scotland, says he had been returning from a business trip to mainland China when he was detained.

In his 14-page complaint, made public on Nov. 28, he says he was shuttled between detention and interrogation centers while hooded and handcuffed, and was interrogated while bound in a “tiger chair,” a metal seat with arm and leg locks. He says he was also shackled in a spread-eagle position for hours and forced to assume stressful positions for lengthy periods.

Eventually, Cheng says he agreed to confess to the minor offense of soliciting prostitution, to avoid harsher treatment and a heavy sentence on national security charges. He says his captors filmed him reading out two letters of repentance that they made him write, and then filmed him multiple times making his confession, based on a script they gave him.

“CGTN was well aware that the recording they used in their broadcast was extracted under extreme duress and distress,” Cheng said, adding that the broadcaster falsely said he went on trial, when, in fact, he was in extrajudicial “administrative detention.”

Cheng is the latest to turn to regulators with allegations of forced confessions on Chinese state TV. Peter Humphrey, a British corporate investigator imprisoned for two years in China, has filed an Ofcom complaint. So has Angela Gui, whose Hong Kong bookseller father turned up in detention in China. Their cases are pending.

In 2012, Ofcom revoked Iranian state-owned Press TV’s license following a complaint by a journalist that the station aired an interview with him while he was being detained.

By Kelvin Chan

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