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British consular officer detained in China returns home

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — The family of a British consular officer arrested in China confirmed on Saturday that he had returned to the former British colony, ending a two-week ordeal in which state media in Beijing launched a vigorous smear campaign against him.

Simon Sheng disappeared after his August 8 visit to Shenzhen, a Chinese city near the Hong Kong border, while the British Foreign Office said its staff in Hong Kong and the employee’s family had not been able to reach him since.

He lost contact with Xing on his return by express train from the Chinese city. At the time, he sent a message to his girlfriend as he prepared to pass through customs points to return to Hong Kong.

In a statement on the Twitter-like Webo website, Shenzhen police said Xing was “sentenced to 15 days’ administrative detention for violating a law on public security in the People’s Republic of China,” without specifying the charges.

Simon Shing’s family wrote on his Facebook page on Saturday that he had “returned to Hong Kong,” explaining that “he will need some time to rest.”

“We welcome the release of Simon Sheng and are pleased that he will meet with his family again,” the Foreign Office said. “Simon and his family have asked for privacy and we would be grateful if that were respected,” she said in a statement.

The Chinese police said on Saturday they had released Xing as his sentence was over. “He confessed to illegal activity,” she said, without elaborating on the charges against him.

The incident comes as tension between Britain and China escalates, with Beijing’s calls for London to “intervene” in pro-democracy demonstrations launched three months ago in the former British colony, which was returned to China in 1997 under an agreement.

During his detention, pro-government Chinese newspapers published unproven reasons for arresting the consular officer.

Simon Shing was arrested for hiring prostitutes, the Shenzhen Times quoted the Shenzhen police as saying.

– “fabricated” crime –

The newspaper confirmed that the police did not contact the family after Simon Xing was arrested at his request. “Thanks to the British Foreign Office and the media, the dossier is well known,” the newspaper wrote.

But the family of the 28-year-old rejected the information on the Facebook page, saying it was a “fabricated” charge. “Everyone knows it’s a joke.”

China has promised to respect freedoms in Hong Kong since its return in 1997, but protesters say their rights are eroding.

But many participants in pro-democracy protests, entering their third month, say freedoms have waned, especially since Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power.

Demonstrations in Hong Kong began with protests against a bill allowing extradition to mainland China, but expanded to demand democratic rights in the semi-autonomous city.

The pro-China government has suspended the bill but has not formally withdrawn it, raising concerns that it will be introduced later.

Since the protests began, Chinese authorities have stepped up border checks, including checking the phones and devices of some travelers for photos of demonstrations.

Beijing has been criticized in the past for detaining foreign nationals during diplomatic crises and for accusing “sexual crimes” of dissidents and activists.

On Saturday, marches with protesters wearing black masks took place in an industrial district of Hong Kong.

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