Chinese state media on Thursday published a “confession” video of a former staffer at the UK consulate in Hong Kong, as well as CCTV footage that purported to show him visiting a massage parlour.
Simon Cheng – previously a trade and investment officer at the Scottish Development International section of the consulate – was detained by mainland Chinese authorities for 15 days in August as he was returning from a business event in Shenzhen.
Cheng, 29, made headlines again on Wednesday after he said he suffered “torture” at the hands of his captors. In a lengthy statement as well as media interviews, Cheng said he was “hung, handcuffed and shackled” and beaten when he failed to comply.
In an interview with the BBC, Cheng also responded to allegations from the Chinese Communist Party tabloid, the Global Times, that he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute. He said he had done “nothing regrettable to the people [he] cherish and love,” but declined to answer whether he paid for sex. He added that he did not want the conversation to be dictated by the state media’s agenda.
On Thursday, the People’s Daily Weibo account published a two-minute-long CCTV video that appeared to show Cheng visiting a massage parlour three times. He walked in on July 23, July 31 and August 8 – staying for about two and a half hours each time, according to the captions.
The footage showed him approaching the reception desk, being led into a room, and later signing out at the reception desk.
People’s Daily said that Cheng violated Article 66 of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Penalties for Administration of Public Security against soliciting prostitutes, and was placed under administrative detention for 15 days.
“[Cheng] admitted right away to his unlawful activities of soliciting prostitutes. He solicited prostitutes thrice within half a month, and chose not to notify his family out of shame,” the Party mouthpiece wrote.
The clip ended with Cheng “confessing” to his crimes towards the camera. An off-screen interrogator could be heard asking Cheng, in accented Cantonese, why he chose not to contact his family or a lawyer despite being given the chance.
Cheng – who wore a pink t-shirt with prison markings – replied that he did not contact his family or ask for a lawyer because he felt ashamed and embarrassed. Cheng added that he deeply regretted his acts and would not repeat his mistakes.
In the video, Cheng was seen without his glasses. In his written account of his ordeal, the former consulate staffer said that Chinese authorities had taken away his glasses during most of his detention, leading him to feel “dizzy all the time.”
Cheng was not immediately available for comment.
Peter Dahlin, director of human rights NGO Safeguard Defenders and the author of a book on forced confessions in China, said that the video had “no validity of any kind.”
“This is an edited statement procured after torture while Simon was held incommunicado in solitary confinement, and whatever words are spoken are meaningless,” Dahlin told HKFP.
“It is clear, and as Simon himself said in his writing, that he has recorded several takes as part of this forced TV confessions, as not only does the video cut together three different filmings, but in one such cut camera changes but his spoken words are not interrupted.”
Dahlin also said the video could have been a “direct foreign policy message” to the UK. “They have chosen to release only this small part about him choosing to remain incommunicado, giving up his right to a lawyer, to paint the process with a veneer of judicial process and legality,” he added.
For detainees with connections abroad, Beijing would use forced TV confessions to deflect or negate criticism from foreign governments, Dahlin added.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Wednesday expressed outrage at the “brutal and disgraceful treatment” of Cheng, saying that it amounted to torture.
Cheng has been seeking asylum at an undisclosed location. Raab said the British government was working on bringing Cheng and his fiancee to the UK.