British national Simon Cheng left a short text for his girlfriend as he was crossing from mainland China to Hong Kong. He was never heard from again.
British national Simon Cheng left a short text for his girlfriend as he was crossing from mainland China to Hong Kong. He was never heard from again.

‘Pray for me’: Brit vanishes in China

"PRAY for me."

This was the last message British consulate worker Simon Cheng sent from his phone before he mysteriously vanished without a trace in mainland China.

For two weeks, no one knew for certain where he was, until China's state media confirmed he had been detained.

Abrupt disappearances in mainland China are nothing unusual, but Cheng's case has sparked global attention and added a new face to the ongoing Hong Kong pro-democracy movement.

WHAT HAPPENED TO SIMON CHENG?

On August 8, Simon Cheng - a Hong Kong permanent resident who was based at Britain's consulate in the territory - was travelling back by train following a business conference in the mainland city of Shenzhen.

On the way home he texted his girlfriend, Annie Li, about his return to the southern territory. "Passing through. Pray for me," Cheng wrote on WeChat, a Chinese messaging app.

That was the last message Cheng sent before he appeared to vanish, with no follow-up texts to any of his loved ones.

Two weeks after his disappearance, China's state media confirmed Cheng had been held in administrative detention, with the tabloid Global Times newspaper claiming he visited a prostitute while in the mainland, which is a violation of China's Security Administration Punishment Law.

 

Simon Cheng vanished during a business trip in mainland China.
Simon Cheng vanished during a business trip in mainland China.

The penalty for this offence is up to 15 days in detention and a fine of 5000 yuan ($A1043).

China's foreign ministry confirmed he was being held under administrative detention in Shenzhen for violating "public security management regulations".

"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.

According to the Global Times, Shenzhen police said Cheng asked police not to tell his family he was detained. The paper's editor-in-chief Hu Xijin alleged that local police wanted to "help reduce damage to (Cheng's) reputation".

CONCERNS FOR CHENG'S WELLBEING

Cheng's loved ones have expressed concern for his disappearance.

Li, his girlfriend, urged Britain to take responsibility for his wellbeing. "Simon has signed a contract with the British government," she told CNN. "If he hadn't been given that assignment, he wouldn't have needed to go to Shenzhen.

"Britain must take the responsibility in rescuing Simon."

She also noted he had a British National Overseas passport, a special passport for people from Hong Kong, which used to be a British colony.

His family issued a statement saying they feel "very helpless" and are "worried sick" about him.

They said they sought assistance from Hong Kong authorities, but were only told they could travel to the mainland themselves to report a missing person to Chinese authorities.

"We feel very helpless, and are worried sick about Simon. We hope that Simon can return to Hong Kong as soon as possible," Cheng's family wrote.

Cheng, second from left, is due to be released today.
Cheng, second from left, is due to be released today.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong said legal assistance would be available to him.

"However, we need to establish the facts before we can decide what action is appropriate," the spokesperson said. "That's why we are urgently seeking further information from the Chinese authorities about why Simon Cheng was detained. We remain in close contact with his family."

Cheng is due to be released today.

WHY WAS CHENG DETAINED?

The exact reason for Cheng's detainment remain unknown, with The Guardian noting the charge of visiting prostitutes is an accusation often used by Chinese authorities to besmirch government critics.

Cheng's family, which now runs a Facebook page calling for his release, dismissed the reports. "This is a made-up crime of soliciting prostitution, everyone should see it's a joke," their comment said.

 

Cheng had previously been criticised in China’s state media over his support for the pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong.
Cheng had previously been criticised in China’s state media over his support for the pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong.

Prior to his detention, The Global Times had attacked Cheng for his stance on China - namely his support for the Hong Kong demonstrators.

The earlier article suggested he did not support China's "one country, two systems" principle, and was also sympathetic to Taiwan's independence.

Cheng's disappearance has since become a new element of the Hong Kong protests, which dozens of ralliers protesting outside the British consulate for his release earlier this week.


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