It remains unclear exactly why he was first detained. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) originally said he would be held for 15 days under administrative detention for violating China’s Security Administration Punishment Law, which covers a range of offenses deemed too minor to be crimes.
But on Thursday, China’s state-run tabloid Global Times reported that Cheng had been detained for “solicitation of prostitution.” The report attributed the information to police in the Luohu district of the Chinese border city of Shenzhen, where Cheng had been traveling on business on August 8 in his role as a trade officer.
Friends feared that Cheng’s detention might in fact have been linked to recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, noting that he had shared pro-democracy images on social media and had voiced support for the city’s ongoing protest movement.
His arrest came amid reports that Chinese immigration officials are regularly searching travelers’ phones and bags for evidence they have taken part in protests, as they try to cross the border between Hong Kong and mainland China.
However, Cheng’s friend Tommy Cheung has told CNN he did not see his friend at the actual protests, and said Cheng’s detention exemplified why Hong Kongers first began protesting the now-suspended bill that would have allowed extradition of suspected criminals to China.
“And it is justifying why people worry about the rule of law in China,” he said. “Because they have no rule of law in mainland China.”