HONG KONG – A former employee of the British Consulate in Hong Kong who said he was tortured by authorities in mainland China last year has been granted asylum in the UK.
The disappearance of consulate worker Simon Cheng last year at the height of the demonstrations in democracy in Hong Kong highlights the issues that had raised months of protest. Hong Kongers partly walked the streets in fear of being subjected to the opaque Chinese legal system as mainland commanders extend their reach to people in the semi-autonomous Hong Kong, a former British colony.
“I am grateful for the determination and courage shown by the British government to rescue British citizens,”
The British Foreign Office could not immediately be reached for comment.
The asylum to Mr. Cheng came amid widespread concern in Hong Kong on Wednesday after China introduced national security legislation in Hong Kong aimed at wiping out displays of dissent against the Beijing government. The transition has led to other nations being indicted against China, raising fears that it spells the end of the “one country, two systems” framework that marked the territory.
Hong Kong police, who made several arrests under the law during protests on Wednesday, said a 24-year-old man suspected of having knifed a police officer was arrested early Thursday at the city’s airport. Local news outlets said he had been preparing to go to London.
The British government on Wednesday confirmed plans to open a road for as many as three million people from Hong Kong to gain British citizenship. The country’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said the decision responded to the “serious and deeply worrying” new security law.
Raab called the law a violation of the Joint Declaration, the 1984 treaty under which Britain agreed to return Hong Kong in 1997. He said the law violated the city’s autonomy, threatened civil rights and undermined judicial independence.
State Secretary Mike Pompeo called the law “outrageous and offensive to all nations,” because even in one of its articles, even non-Hong Kong residents are likely to be penalized for being run by Chinese law.
Last year, Cheng, 29, traveled from Hong Kong to mainland Shenzhen for a business conference. He was stopped by police when he returned to Hong Kong at the city’s high-speed railway station, some of which is under mainland jurisdiction.
He was held for 15 days, during which he said he was hooded, hanged for hours in a spread-eagle position, and beaten to force him to stay awake. During such abuse, Cheng said, he gave the authorities the password to his iPhone, information about the British consulate and the names of some Hong Kong protesters.
Mr Cheng also provided video footage to report prostitution, which was later released by the Chinese police. After his release, Mr. denied Cheng made the accusations against him and insisted that his confession be forced. The police have Often published confession videos in high-profile cases, which legal experts say are intended to show the state’s authority over individuals.
Cheng said his decision to leave Hong Kong had been the result of political persecution, and that he hoped to return one day.
“Leaving does not mean an end but a beginning,” he added. “We will continue the fight against growing totalitarianism and be back to our hometown with true democracy and freedom.”
The case strained diplomatic relations between China and the United Kingdom, and Beijing’s new national security law threatens to further damage these ties.
Raab said the UK would grant about 350,000 holders of UK foreign passports and another 2.5 million who are eligible for the right to stay in the country for five years and then transfer to the citizenship application.
The British national foreign passport was created for Hong Kong residents but did not grant them citizenship.
The Chinese Embassy in London on Thursday rejected Britain’s new citizenship for overseas passport holders.
“If the British side makes unilateral changes to the relevant practice, it will violate its own position and promise as well as international law and basic standards for international relations,” the embassy said in a statement. “We firmly oppose this and reserve the right to take similar action.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Australia, said on Thursday that he was “very actively” considering proposals to provide support to Hong Kong residents. “There are proposals that I asked to be submitted several weeks ago, and the final hand will be put on them and they will soon be dealt with by the Cabinet,” he added.
Mr Morrison did not say what type of residence conditions would be offered under the proposals or how many Hong Kongers would be included.