Canada halts Hong Kong consulate staff travel after UK case

Canada, Hong Kong, consulate staff, UK

Demonstrators were planning to form human chains on Friday night to show their resolve.


Published: Fri 23 Aug 2019, 1:08 PM

Last updated: Fri 23 Aug 2019, 3:13 PM

Accountants in Hong Kong marched Friday in support of the pro-democracy movement, while the Canadian Consulate banned its staff from leaving the city on official business after a British Consulate employee was detained in mainland China.
The head of the cabin crew union for Hong Kong airline Cathay Dragon said she had been fired in retaliation for supporting the movement, adding to the chill in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory where protesters have been rallying for more than two months.
Demonstrators were planning to form 40 kilometers (25 miles) of human chains Friday night to show their resolve. They said the "Hong Kong Way" was inspired by the "Baltic Way," when people in the Baltic states joined hands 30 years ago in a protest against Soviet control.
The Canadian Consulate didn't say whether the travel restriction on local staff was related to the detention of the British Consulate employee, Simon Cheng Man-kit. He went missing two weeks ago after going on a business trip from Hong Kong's high-speed rail terminal to Shenzhen, a mainland city just across the border.
"At present, locally engaged staff will not undertake official business travel outside of Hong Kong," the Canadian Consulate said in a statement.
Cheng had worked for the British Consulate since December 2017 as an international trade and investment officer for the Scottish government. He and other local staff at consulates and embassies support diplomats but don't have diplomatic passports themselves.
China said this week that Cheng is a Hong Kong resident who had been placed in administrative detention for 15 days for violating public order regulations. It did not elaborate.
The Global Times, a Communist Party-owned nationalistic tabloid, reported Thursday that Chen was detained for "soliciting prostitutes." Police in Shenzhen did not respond to requests for confirmation of the report.
The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement that they are still urgently seeking further information about Cheng's case.
"Neither we nor Simon's family have been able to speak to him since detention," the office said. "That is our priority and we continue to raise Simon's case repeatedly in China, Hong Kong and London and have sought to make contact with Simon himself."
A few thousand accountants gathered in a city square around noon and marched to government headquarters, becoming the latest profession to back the movement publicly following rallies by lawyers, teachers and medical workers.
One participant, Sarah Wong, said accountants are usually quiet because they are focused on getting the numbers right, but they cannot remain silent anymore.

Kenneth Leung, a lawmaker who represents the accounting industry, said that the now-suspended extradition bill that sparked the protests would have affected accountants, because many of them have clients in mainland China and travel there.
The legislation would have allowed suspects to be extradited to the mainland to face trial.
"The profession as a whole needs to come out to express their concerns and grievances," he said.
Rebecca Sy, the airline union head, told a news conference that Cathay Dragon dismissed her without giving a reason, but that the firing came after she was pulled from a flight at short notice and asked by an airline representative to confirm that a screenshot from Facebook was from her account.

Cathay Dragon is owned by Hong Kong's main carrier, Cathay Pacific, which has come under pressure from Chinese authorities for employing people who support the protests. Cathay Pacific did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"It's not just about the termination of the job, it's also the whole issue, it's terrifying. All my colleagues are all terrified," Sy said. "I feel so sorry for them because I'm no longer in that position to protect them. I used to be the one to stand behind them, to back up all of my colleagues."

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions called her firing a "blatant suppression and retaliation on her participation in the anti-extradition bill movement and her actions to mobilize her colleagues to participate as a trade union leader."

The Canadian government updated its travel advice for China on Thursday to warn of stepped-up border checks on smartphones.

"Increased screening of travelers' digital devices has been reported at border crossings between mainland China and Hong Kong," the advisory said.

There have been reports that Chinese immigration officers are inspecting phones for photos related to the protests.

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