China releases ‘confession’ tape of consular worker who claims torture

Authorities in China have released what they say is a confession by detained former British consular employee Simon Cheng, who earlier this week claimed he was tortured by police in August.

Cheng, a 28-year-old Hong Kong citizen who was detained for 15 days while on a trip to mainland China earlier this year, claimed in a Facebook statement Wednesday that he was beaten, blindfolded, deprived of sleep, chained spread-eagled and forced to hold stress positions for hours at a time.

Cheng alleged Chinese secret police repeatedly interrogated him about the UK’s role in Hong Kong’s protests, and about his own participation and that of his friends.

In allegations that could inflame the protesters in Hong Kong and reinforce fears of many in the city, Cheng claimed that Chinese police told him “batches of Hong Kong protesters” had been “caught, delivered and detained in mainland China.” CNN could not independently verify Cheng’s claims.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab appeared to endorse many of Cheng’s claims Wednesday, saying in a statement that his “mistreatment” while in detention “amounts to torture.”

“Simon Cheng was a valued member of our team. We were shocked and appalled by the mistreatment he suffered while in Chinese detention, which amounts to torture,” Raab said.

China hit back against the allegations, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman saying he had “made a full confession about his illegal actions” and was “guaranteed all of his rights and interests according to law.”

“We express our great indignation towards the UK’s recent series of mistaken remarks and actions,” the spokesman added.

On Thursday, Chinese state media published a video of Cheng in detention, a tactic commonly used in China to discredit opponents of the government. It shows him wearing what appears to be prison uniform, being questioned about the case. He tells an off-camera interviewer that he feels “deeply guilty” about the incident.

CCTV footage released alongside the confession also purports to show Cheng “visit(ing) a clubhouse three times in three weeks.” Cheng was held for 15 days under administrative detention, a broad category that covers many misdemeanors — Chinese state media later said it was for soliciting prostitutes.

Cheng did not respond to the prostitution allegation in his statement this week, his family previously described it as “a joke.” Speaking to the BBC Wednesday, Cheng said that he did not want “to focus on the question of whether I solicited a prostitute, because that’s exactly what they want.”

“So, I just want to state clearly that I did nothing regrettable to the people I cherish and love,” he added.

The confession video does not mention prostitution, with Cheng only appearing to obliquely reference it with a comment that he was “too ashamed to meet my girlfriend and my family,” but state media has gone hard on the allegation.

In an editorial Thursday, state-controlled tabloid the Global Times said Western media was painting a “prostitution solicitor as a political victim.”

“Cheng is using fictitious tales to win sympathy and support of the Hong Kong opposition and Western public opinion in a bid to cover up the fact that he solicited prostitutes,” the editorial said.

Contrary to claims by Chinese media and officials that forced confessions are rare in China, the country has a long record of using interviews taped under duress against dissidents.

“A criminal justice system, such as China’s, that relies on confessions, raises the risk of torture. Many televised confessions are allegedly the result of extreme coercion or torture, according to those who have been through them and their supporters,” human rights activist Michael Caster wrote for CNN last year.

Cheng could not be reached for comment Friday about the confession video.

CNN’s Julia Hollingsworth and Helen Regan contributed reporting.