Former U.K. Consulate Staffer Alleges Torture While Detained in China

Simon Cheng, the 29-year-old Hong Kong resident formerly employed by the U.K. consulate who was detained in China for 15 days in August and accused in state-affiliated media of “soliciting prostitutes,” has now accused China of torturing him while he was detained in a public Facebook post. At The Guardian, Verna Yu and Patrick Wintour report:

Cheng, 29, was detained while trying to return to Hong Kong from a day trip to Shenzhen, a mainland Chinese city that borders Hong Kong. In an interview with the Guardian, he said he was tortured for days before being forced to falsely confess that he and the British government had played a role in the pro- protests in Hong Kong, which were largely peaceful at the time.

During lengthy interrogations in windowless rooms, Cheng said he was called “an enemy of the state” and “a British spy and secret agent” working for the UK government by his captors, who threatened him with subversion and espionage charges.

Cheng, who said he was held in solitary confinement from the second day of his detention, was also pressed to confess falsely that he “had been used by others”. He was forced to say that the British government was masterminding protests in Hong Kong and that he had secured financial aid and resources for the protesters, who the Chinese authorities insisted were “rioters”.

He was at first put in what is known as a “tiger chair” – a metal chair with bars that disables a detainee’s movements – and prevented from wearing his glasses until he was released. He was not allowed to contact his family or a lawyer.

Police told him he had been reported for “soliciting prostitutes” and said that if he “cooperated” he would face a lesser punishment of administrative detention, which normally involves 15 days of detention, otherwise he would be given the much more severe punishment of criminal detention. Cheng said he had no choice but to make a false confession. [Source]

More on Cheng’s allegations, and on official comments from the U.K. government, from the BBC’s John Sudworth:

Following our interview, the British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab summoned the Chinese ambassador.

“We are outraged by the disgraceful mistreatment that Mr Cheng faced when he was in detention in mainland China… and we’ve made clear that we expect the Chinese authorities to review and hold to account those responsible,” Mr Raab told the BBC.

[…] He claims he was subjected to sleep deprivation, with his interrogators forcing him to sing the Chinese national anthem to keep himself awake.

And, he believes, he was not the only Hongkonger undergoing such treatment.

“I saw a bunch of Hong Kong people getting arrested and interrogated. I heard someone speak in Cantonese saying: ‘Raise your hands up – you raised the flags in the protest didn’t you?'” [Source]

and the extraction of is alleged to be a systemic practice in China, and is believed to have led to the deaths of detained activists. Despite reforms aimed at mitigating the practice, including government rulings to nullify evidence obtained through torture and the banning of police torture, independent investigations by international NGOs and the U.N Committee Against Torture have shown that torture remains a routine interrogation method.

The Hong Kong Free Press’ Holmes Chan quotes Amnesty International on Cheng’s allegations, contextualizing them into the wider use of torture and in China:

Amnesty International’s China Researcher Patrick Poon said that Cheng’s case was a “callous attempt” by Chinese state officials to intimidate anyone perceived to be linked to protests in Hong Kong.

“The horrific abuse Simon Cheng described in his testimony, such as being shackled and placed in stress positions, is in line with the endemic torture and other ill-treatment in detention we have repeatedly documented in mainland China,” Poon said.

“He is yet another victim of arbitrary detention in China, where activists can be held incommunicado for long periods of time. China must investigate Cheng’s claims and ensure any police found responsible for torture or other ill-treatment are held to account.” [Source]

The AP reports on the Chinese foreign ministry’s rejection of the U.K. government’s concerns:

China’s foreign ministry responded angrily to the allegations and the summoning of the ambassador at a daily briefing on Wednesday.

Ambassador Liu Xiaoming will “by no means accept the so-called concerns or complaints raised by the British side,” ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said.

“The Chinese ambassador to the U.K. will lodge the complaints with the U.K. to express our strong opposition and indignation to the U.K.’s wrong words and deeds on Hong Kong in these days,” Geng said.

Geng did not address Cheng’s allegations directly, but cited a statement by Shenzhen police from August saying his lawful rights had been protected and that he had “admitted his offence completely,” an apparent reference to a confession of soliciting prostitution that Cheng says was coerced. Cheng has strongly denied the charge.[Source]

Hong Kong’s justice secretary claimed “no opinion” when questioned about the accusations by reporters. From Reuters’ Alistair Smout:

Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng, speaking to reporters at the Chinese embassy in London, said he should report the matter to the relevant Chinese authorities.

[…] “There are many things that are often reported and sometimes it is extremely important to gather the whole facts and veracity of it before any view is to be formed,” Cheng, who is not related to Simon Cheng, said in English when asked if she was alarmed by the account of torture.

“So I prefer to hold my opinion until I have the opportunity to collect and analyse any information that I might have,” she added.

The justice secretary, who sustained a wrist injury in London last week when she was pushed to the ground by people protesting against the Hong Kong government, drew a parallel between the incident and the alleged mistreatment of Simon Cheng. […] [Source]

Official Chinese statements have blamed the ongoing protest movement on encouragement by “foreign forces.” Cheng’s allegations came hours after the U.S. senate passed bills aimed at protecting human rights in Hong Kong and banning the export of crowd-control munitions to Hong Kong police.  At The Globe and Mail, Nathan VanderKlippe quotes local Hong Kongers who support international pressure amid the increasingly violent five-month standoff between protesters and police:

China has long accused hostile foreign forces of fomenting discord in Hong Kong, where protests have continued for five months, bringing frequent and fierce clashes to the city’s streets.

But the additional international pressure on Beijing was welcomed by protesters and pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong, who have sought outside support in their attempt to fend off what they call China’s encroaching influence on the city.

“I hope this could help at least make the police, or the people in government or those in Beijing, be less aggressive in cracking down on the movement here,” said Ying Chi Lee, a dentist who is on Hong Kong’s Election Committee, the electoral college of 1,200 people who choose the city’s chief executive. She and others shut down some streets in the downtown Wednesday afternoon in a lunchtime protest that was met by dozens of riot police, who at one point surrounded a young finance worker and threatened him with arrest.

[…] He was furious – and grateful for the advocacy of other countries.

“Somebody has to stop the police from doing what they are doing. It’s just nonsense,” he said. [Source]

The treatment that Cheng, a Hong Kong resident, alleges he was subjected to evokes the initial concerns that ignited the movement movement in June, specifically opposition to a proposed extradition bill that was formally withdrawn in September. The bill’s broad language, had it passed, would have allowed for extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China, where they could be subjected to sham trials, torture, and confession extraction.

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