Hundreds of protesters bearing Union Jacks flocked to the UK Consulate-General in Hong Kong on Friday evening urging London to safeguard the rights of British nationals after a consular staffer alleged he was tortured by Chinese authorities.

Simon Cheng – a trade and investment officer at the Scottish Development International section of the consulate – attended a business event in Shenzhen on August 8, but went missing after boarding a high-speed train back to Hong Kong’s West Kowloon terminal. Beijing later confirmed he had been placed under administrative detention, claiming he visited a prostitution massage parlour.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Cheng, 29, said earlier in November that – during his two-week detention – he was “hung, handcuffed and shackled” and beaten when he failed to comply. He added that Chinese authorities had accused him of spying for the UK and inciting political unrest in Hong Kong – allegations he denied.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Hong Kong has been gripped by 25 weeks of unrest sparked by calls for democratic reform and police accountability over its handling of ongoing protests.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

By 7:30pm, dozens congregated outside the diplomatic office in Admiralty wearing masks with illustrations of Cheng’s face by China-born artist Badiucao.

Some shouted “Sino-British Joint Declaration, dirty deal!” “We are British,” “Act now Number 10” and “We could all be Simon.”

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The organising group, Britons in Hong Kong, published its letter to British Consul General to Hong Kong Andrew Heyn calling on London to support and protect Cheng, investigate his detention in China, and protect British nationals including British Nationals (Overseas) in Hong Kong.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“As a co-signatory of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, Britain is empowered and legally obliged to oversee the international treaty and act [when] it is breached,” it read. “With the lives of Hongkongers in peril, it is paramountly important for Britain to do her best to guarantee the safety of her nationals.”

The group also said any protection afforded to Cheng should be extended to other British Nationals in Chinese custody, including Grandma Wong – a former Hong Kong protest regular who is on bail after being detained in Shenzhen where she lives, according to local media.

Grandma Wong waves the British flag at an anti-extradition protest on Sunday, July 14, 2019. Photo: May James.

Wong became known for brandishing a Union Jack flag at pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

An organiser who gave her name as Dawn told reporters she was disappointed by the UK’s lacklustre show of support for Cheng.

“It has already been stated in [Cheng’s] official statement as well, that he did not get sufficient support [from the UK] because it is only a two year working visa offer which is not enough to support him or his family because his family did not get the same offer,” she said.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Dawn said the UK should enact a law similar to the newly-passed Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which aims to punish anyone who deemed by Washington to be suppressing basic freedoms in the city.

“At the very least, the UK should enforce a similar bill,” she said. “Up until now, [London] has mostly been silent except for a few statements which [are] definitely not enough in this case because right now for us, their nationals, we are not feeling like we’re given enough support.”

Asked what kind of response she hoped from the UK, she told HKFP it should amount to more than a strongly-worded statement. “We hope that if there is a response it will be concrete action rather than a statement or a letter,” she said.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Shortly after 7:55pm, the Deputy Head of the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong – Nick Heath – collected the letter from Dawn and said he would ensure the views of the group are passed onto UK representatives.

After the letter was received, dozens marched through Pacific Place towards the Legislative Council Complex shouting “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” and “Five demands, not one less” – in reference to those made by pro-democracy demonstrators since June – before dispersing.

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Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.