A staff member of the British consulate in Hong Kong who mysteriously disappeared earlier this month was confirmed to be in custody of the Chinese government.
Simon Cheng Man-Kit, a 28-year-old trade and investment officer at the consulate’s Scottish Development International unit, was detained in the border city of Shenzhen, Chinese, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang announced on Wednesday.
The Hong Kong citizen traveled to Shenzhen on Aug. 8 for a business trip, but he never returned home despite plans to do so on the same day, according to Hong Kong Free Press.
He managed to send one last message to his girlfriend, however, saying that he was on the Express Rail Link about to pass through the border into Hong Kong.
At a press briefing, Shuang said that Cheng will be held for 15 days for violating “public security management regulations,” though he did not elaborate further.
“We have made representations so that the British side will stop inciting more problems and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs,” he told reporters.
In a statement, Cheng’s family claimed that they had sought assistance from the Hong Kong Police and the Immigration Department on Aug. 9, but were told that they could only report the case in person to the mainland Public Security Bureau.
“We feel very helpless, and are worried sick about Simon,” they said.
Cheng’s Taiwanese girlfriend, identified by Bloomberg as Annie Li, felt something was off after Cheng — who was preparing to pass through immigration — sent a text message which said, “Passing through. Pray for me.”
“Simon’s disappearance and detention without reason will create panic among investors and entrepreneurs all over the world,” Li said. “I call on relevant authorities in the mainland to release Simon as soon as possible and restore confidence of foreign investors and the public.”
The family hired a mainland lawyer who spent days looking for Cheng in detention centers within Shenzhen but to no avail. Li said that the lawyer was pessimistic about his chances of finding her boyfriend.
“It’s pretty certain that Shenzhen police will not allow any lawyer to meet him,” the lawyer told Li, according to the South China Morning Post. “Even if we can successfully lodge a complaint, the official reply won’t come any time sooner than Aug. 23.”
The Hong Kong Police and the Immigration Department announced Tuesday that it was following up Cheng’s case through the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Guangdong.
“[The department has] provided the family with proper advice and practical assistance,” it added.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong police classified the incident as a “missing person” case, adding that they have maintained “close contact” with relevant authorities in the mainland.
“Active investigation by Regional Missing Persons Unit of Kowloon West is underway,” they said.
On Wednesday afternoon, protesters gathered outside the British consulate in Hong Kong to seek information on Cheng’s whereabouts. Meanwhile, others set up an online petition calling for efforts from the British government to save its employee.
“I have no idea why they would want to detain him,”
petition organizer Max Chung, a friend of Cheng, told NBC News
. “Why he was captured [is what] we really want to know.”
On Thursday, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that it “urgently” sought information regarding Cheng after the Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times reported that the 28-year-old was being held for “soliciting prostitutes.”
“Neither we nor Simon’s family have been able to speak to him since his detention,”
the office said, according to Reuters
. “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.”
According to Global Times
, Cheng asked local authorities not to tell his family about his detention, while editor-in-chief Hu Xijin tweeted
that police only wanted to “help reduce damage to his reputation.”