Hong Kong: Asylum for ‘tortured’ consulate worker could give hope to other activists

A former worker at the UK’s consulate in Hong Kong has told Sky News that Britain’s decision to grant him asylum could set a precedent for others who fear Chinese persecution.

Hong Kong-born Simon Cheng, 29, said the Home Office recently approved his asylum request after he was forced to flee the territory last year following more than two weeks in Chinese detention.

In an interview with Sky News, the pro-democracy campaigner said he applauded a decision by Britain this week to offer millions of Hong Kong residents a path to UK citizenship if they hold the special status of British National Overseas (BNO).

However, Mr Cheng said his case might mean those who do not qualify, including anyone who was born after Britain handed control of the city back to China in 1997, might be able to claim political asylum instead.

Speaking in London, he said: “I guess I’m the first case as a Hong Kong citizen to be granted political asylum in the UK, so it could be a precedent for more Hong Kong people if they cannot be protected by the BNO scheme.”

While supportive of the citizenship offer, he said Boris Johnson’s government should also impose sanctions on China in response to the national security law, which the UK says is in breach of a bilateral treaty that guarantees Hong Kong’s one country, two systems principle.

Mr Cheng warned that his experience of China’s police and justice system during 15 days in detention on the Chinese mainland last August was a portent of what the people of his home city could expect.

“That is the worst ever,” he said of the new legislation.

Pro-democracy protesters “can simply wave the flag or say something bad to the government and be detained and delivered back to mainland China,” he said.

Mr Cheng believes those Hong Kong residents standing up to what they see as Beijing’s encroaching rule should receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

But he warned that left unchecked, China could try to extend its influence further, possibly even leading to conflict over Taiwan or in the South China Sea.

“We give a warning signal to the world now,” he said. “The Hong Kong citizens now on the frontline, so in the future I do believe we are eligible to get the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Recalling his time in captivity, Mr Cheng said he had been returning to Hong Kong following a trip to mainland China when he was arrested on 8 August.

He believes he was stopped because he had taken part in a number of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, so perhaps his face had been recognised.

Mr Cheng describes being secured to a “tiger chair” in a cell, with a bar over his stomach and his hands cuffed together.

He alleged an interrogator began by asking him what crime he had committed, followed by what he thought about Hong Kong and whether the UK had anything to do with widespread pro-democracy protests.

“I never ever can imagine being interrogated with such questions,” Mr Cheng said.

He was eventually told that he could either confess to seeing prostitutes – not regarded as a serious offence – or be handed over to other security personnel, where he could face more serious charges.

Mr Cheng said he opted for the former, even though he says this was not true.

He claims he was then transferred to another location where he was placed in solitary confinement for a week, only taken out to be driven allegedly to a separate site where he claims he was made to stand in stress positions and beaten.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office last month released a six-monthly report on Hong Kong.

In the foreword, Dominic Raab referred to Mr Cheng’s “mistreatment”, saying the UK was “shocked and appalled”.

“His treatment in Chinese detention, for more than two weeks, amounted to torture,” he said.

China’s ambassador to London, Liu Xiaoming, has said previously on Twitter that Mr Cheng was placed under 15-day “administrative detention” by police in Shenzhen.

“He confessed all offences. All his lawful rights and interests were guaranteed in accordance with the law.”

Mr Cheng was set free on 24 August but not before he claims he was forced to confess on camera to soliciting prostitutes, treason and sharing UK secrets with the Chinese authorities.

“I was trying to be cooperating, yeah let’s do it,” he said, explaining why he agreed to do the recording. “If I can’t get out after 15 days I will be done.”

He said the false confession on prostitution was released by state media along with CCTV footage showing him visiting a massage parlour – which he did but for an ordinary massage.

The other two “confession tapes” have yet to be made public, Mr Cheng said.

Upon his release he decided he had to leave his parents and siblings in Hong Kong because he did not feel safe.

Mr Cheng travelled with his girlfriend to Taiwan and then they moved to the UK.

The coronavirus pandemic means he has not been able to find work yet so is dedicating his time to supporting the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

Even though he’s left the territory, Mr Cheng still says he thinks he is being monitored.

“I feel I’m being followed sometimes in the UK,” he said. “I do feel some suspicious people around me stare at me. I’m not sure because I cannot prove anything.”

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