China has said it "firmly objects" to criticism from Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, as a diplomatic row deepened after the Telegraph revealed consulate employee Simon Cheng Man-kit was tortured by Chinese secret police who demanded he confess that the British government was masterminding the Hong Kong protests.
Mr Raab summoned the Chinese ambassador in the UK, Liu Xiaoming, “to express our outrage at the brutal and disgraceful treatment of Simon”.
But China warned London to remain “prudent and stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China’s domestic affairs, because that will only harm the UK’s interests,” said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.
“China firmly objects to the UK’s comments related to the matter, and we express strong indignation toward the UK’s false actions and comments on all issues relating to Hong Kong,” Mr Geng said.
Mr Cheng, 29, disappeared for more than two weeks in China in August, during which he was chained, beaten, and interrogated – sometimes for as long as 48 hours, he told the Telegraph. One officer terrorised him by saying he’d never be released, calling him an enemy of the state.
Chinese state security agents threatened to charge him with subversion and espionage if he failed to admit that the UK government was supporting the protests by providing funding and materials.
Protests have roiled Hong Kong for nearly six months, posing the biggest challenge to the authority of the ruling Chinese Communist Party. A multi-day siege at a university campus has stretched on, as a remaining group of protesters refuse to surrender to police.
Schools reopened on Wednesday on a day of relative calm, after being closed for nearly a week amidst unprecedented violence as demonstrators threw petrol bombs and shot fire-dipped arrows, and police fired tear gas and rubber bullets in response.
Even with unrest escalating, Chinese authorities have refused repeatedly to make any concessions. At the top of a growing list of demands, demonstrators are calling for democratic election reforms, resignation of city leader Carrie Lam, and an independent inquiry into police handling of the protests.
Police have made more than 5,000 arrests since protests kicked off in June, and officers have been spotted carrying submachine guns and semi-automatic rifles on the frontlines, a sign that tensions will not end anytime soon.
China has repeatedly called foreign governments “black hands” guilty of fomenting unrest in Hong Kong to destabilise China, saying efforts to instigate “colour revolutions” would fail.
The foreign ministry in Beijing also condemned the US for “malicious action” after the Senate unanimously passed two bills aimed at protecting human rights in Hong Kong.
“Plots to hinder China’s development and meddle with Chinese affairs will not succeed – it will just end in vain,” said Mr Geng.
One piece of legislation would require Washington to certify annually whether Hong Kong’s autonomy was sufficient to continue special considerations that boosts its status as a global financial hub, and allow for sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations.
A second bill would ban the export of crowd-control gear to Hong Kong, such as tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun guns.
The UK banned exports of riot control gear to Hong Kong in June.
Protests kicked off in Hong Kong over an extradition bill that would send suspects to face trial in mainland China, where Party control of the courts leads to a 99.9 per cent conviction rate.
While the proposal has been withdrawn, demonstrators have stayed on the streets, worried their freedoms are being eroded under Beijing rule – something Mr Cheng says his experience proves.
Beijing, however, claims Mr Cheng’s rights were “fully protected in accordance to the law,” saying he had “admitted his offences completely.”
While Chinese police say he confessed to soliciting prostitution, punishable by 15 days’ detention, Mr Cheng continues to deny the charge, telling the Telegraph he was coerced into saying so as a condition of release.
Chinese agents “rely exclusively on extracting confessions and statements from detainees and so-called witnesses to obtain a conviction,” said Peter Humphrey, 63, a Briton who himself vanished for nearly two years in China, and now campaigns for human rights.
“The entire legal system in China is one of coercive force,” he said, describing Mr Cheng’s case as “diplomatic hostage-taking.”
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