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China Frees U.K. Consulate Staffer Held Amid Hong Kong Protests

Sheryl Tian Tong Lee and Iain Marlow

(Bloomberg) -- China released a U.K. consulate staffer from Hong Kong who was detained on the mainland, a case that raised concerns Beijing was trying to warn the British government against meddling in its former colony.

Simon Cheng, was set free on Saturday after being held in administrative detention for 15 days, police in the Chinese city of Shenzhen said in a post on the Weibo social media platform. While diplomatic tensions were likely to persist, Cheng’s release spares him the personal risk of a lengthy detention in China.

Cheng is employed by the U.K. consulate and works for Scottish Development International, which encourages firms to do business with Scotland. He failed to return home to Hong Kong from an Aug. 8 meeting in the adjacent Chinese city of Shenzhen.

The Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper said Aug. 22 that Chen had been detained on suspicion of soliciting prostitutes, citing Shenzhen police. His family hit back at that claim, saying in a Facebook post: “Everyone can take this as a joke.”

Cheng was held for violating China’s Public Security Administration Punishment Law, the Shenzhen police said Saturday, without specifying what he did. The law allows police to jail people without trial for up to 15 days for a wide range of relatively minor violations.

Cheng’s family earlier announced his return in a Facebook post Saturday morning, and said he is taking time to “rest and recover.” The post was later removed, with no reason provided.

“Simon is safe,” Max Chung, a friend of Cheng’s who organized a rally that sought his release, said in a text message.

His detention occurred in the middle of historic pro-democracy protests that have rocked the Asian financial hub for more than two months. Demonstrations began in June in opposition to a bill that would have allowed extraditions from Hong Kong to mainland China.

The U.K. returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997 on the promise that Beijing would maintain the city’s independent courts, democratic institutions and capitalist financial system. Tensions between the two sides have simmered in recent weeks, after Beijing accused London of meddling by defending the rights of anti-government protesters.

--With assistance from Aaron Mc Nicholas, Natnicha Chuwiruch and Ina Zhou.

To contact the reporters on this story: Sheryl Tian Tong Lee in Hong Kong at slee1905@bloomberg.net;Iain Marlow in Hong Kong at imarlow1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Shamim Adam at sadam2@bloomberg.net, ;Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Shoko Oda

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