- State-run tabloid quotes mainland police as saying Cheng detained in Shenzhen for soliciting a prostitute
London said on Thursday it "urgently" sought information on the detention in mainland China of a Hong Kong employee of the British consulate in the city, after Chinese state-run newspaper reported that he was being held for 15 days for "solicitation of prostitution".
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it was "our priority" to make contact with Simon Cheng Man-kit, 28, a trade and investment officer at the consulate's Scottish Development International section.
"Neither we nor Simon's family have been able to speak to him since his detention," the office said in a statement. "That is our priority and we continue to raise Simon's case repeatedly in China, Hong Kong and London and have sought to make contact with Simon himself."
Chinese state-run tabloid Global Times reported earlier in the day that Cheng was being held in administrative detention for 15 days for visiting a prostitute " a violation of Chinese law.
The penalty for the offence is between 10 and 15 days in detention and a possible fine of 5,000 yuan (US$705).
The Chinese foreign ministry confirmed on Wednesday that Cheng had been held under administrative detention in Shenzhen for violating "public security management regulations", adding that his detention was purely a matter for China.
"I also want to stress that this worker is a Hong Kong citizen " not a British citizen " and he is Chinese. And this is entirely a matter of China's internal affairs," ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
The Global Times report comes two weeks after Cheng disappeared while returning to Hong Kong from a business trip to Shenzhen via the cross-border high-speed railway. It also comes amid anti-government protests in Hong Kong triggered by a now-suspended extradition bill. Beijing has also hit out at London for its comments on the Hong Kong protests, accusing it of interfering in China's internal affairs.
According to the report, Shenzhen police said Cheng asked police to not tell his family of his detention.
The newspaper's editor-in-chief, Hu Xijin, tweeted on Thursday afternoon that local police wanted to "help reduce damage to (Cheng's) reputation".
But an earlier Global Times article attacked Cheng for political posts reportedly found on his social media accounts.
The article suggested that Cheng did not support "one country, two systems" in Hong Kong and was sympathetic to independence for the special administrative region and Taiwan. It also included an image of a person being slapped in the face, captioned: "I am hitting you on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party."
The article also suggested that Cheng was featured in a video circulating on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform, apparently showing a bespectacled Hong Kong man arguing with a mainland man on a high-speed train. But the video published by Zhong Hong Wang " a site under China's top economic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission " stated the incident happened on August 16, over a week after Cheng's scheduled return and disappearance.
On Facebook, a page called "Release Simon Cheng" responded to the solicitation allegations in the Global Times report by saying: "Visiting a prostitute? Everyone can continue to treat this as a joke. Ha."
Dozens of Hongkongers rallied outside the British consulate for Cheng's release on Wednesday. One of the rally's organisers, Michael Mo Kawn-tai, said Cheng held a British National (Overseas) passport, which is not equivalent to British citizenship but does grant consular help outside China.
Cheng's family said they hired a mainland lawyer, who was unable to find him in various detention centres in Shenzhen.
Calls and messages to the Shenzhen police department at Luohu district after hours went unanswered.
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