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China detained a U.K. consulate staffer from Hong Kong for visiting a prostitute, a Chinese newspaper alleged, a new twist in a case that has raised concerns Beijing is trying to warn the British government against meddling in its former colony.
Police in the border city of Shenzhen said Simon Cheng, 28, “violated the 66 article of China’s law on administrative penalties for public security, which states that people who engage in prostitution or visit prostitutes shall be detained for no less than 10 days but no more than 15 days,” the Communist Party’s Global Times reported Thursday. Cheng’s 15th day of detention is Friday.
Cheng told the police not to notify his family about his detention, the newspaper said, adding that he faces a potential 5,000 yuan ($705) fine. It gave no evidence against Cheng. The UK consulate in Hong Kong did not answer a phone call seeking comment on the allegation. Cheng’s girlfriend did not immediately respond to a question on the charge.
Before the Global Times story was published, the consulate said it had raised the issue with authorities in China and Hong Kong and was in contact with Cheng’s family and providing support.
Allegations of visiting prostitutes have later proved false in other instances where Hong Kong residents have been detained in China. A Hong Kong lawmaker apologized after accusing bookseller and Communist Party critic Lee Bo of visiting prostitutes, the South China Morning Post reported in 2016.
Separately, allegations of sexual impropriety have appeared alongside political corruption charges in the trials of senior Chinese politicians Bo Xilai, Zhou Yongkang and Sun Zhengcai.
The Global Times said Hong Kong, Taiwanese and western media had politicized Cheng’s case. “Those reports linked the incident to the current complicated situation in Hong Kong, politicized the case and highlighted his family’s lack of knowledge on his whereabouts,” the newspaper said.
The allegation was also tweeted by the paper’s editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, who’s among a small number of prominent Chinese figures who comment on topics usually handled with extreme sensitivity by state agencies.
China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed Wednesday that Cheng, a Hong Kong citizen, was being held in administrative detention in Shenzhen on allegations of violating local laws, but didn’t specify any allegations.
Cheng is employed by the U.K. Consulate General and works for Scottish Development International, which encourages firms to do business with Scotland. He failed to return home to Hong Kong from an Aug. 8 meeting in Shenzhen.
His detention occurred as historic pro-democracy protests have rocked the city since early June. On Wednesday evening, a small group of protesters staged a “Save Simon Cheng” rally outside the consulate in central Hong Kong.
Cheng went to Shenzhen to attend a trade fair, leaving around noon on Aug. 8, according to an account circulated by his girlfriend, Annie Li. He was on his way back to Hong Kong after 10 p.m. when he messaged Li to say “passing through” and “pray for me.” He then stop communicating.
The next morning, Li and Cheng’s family went to the U.K. consulate, which told them to file a police report. Police launched a missing person’s investigation.
(Adds details on Cheng’s time in Shenzhen from eleventh paragraph. An earlier version corrected to clarify that allegation against Lee Bo was made by a Hong Kong lawmaker, who later apologized.)
--With assistance from Peter Martin.
To contact the reporters on this story: Iain Marlow in Hong Kong at email@example.com;Sheryl Tian Tong Lee in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at email@example.com, Karen Leigh, Sharon Chen
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