Simon Cheng, a Hong Kong citizen who works for the British Consulate, has not been heard since August 8, when he told his girlfriend that he had boarded a high-speed train to return from the Chinese city of Shenzhen to Hong Kong, " Pray for me, "he texted her as he approached Chinese immigration, according to screens seen by CNN.
Friends fear his detention may be linked to recent democratic protests, noting that Cheng has shared pro-democracy images on social media and expressed support for the ongoing protest movement in the city. His detention comes amid reports that Chinese immigration officials regularly search the phones and bags of passengers as they cross the border for evidence that they have taken part in protests.
Cheng's detention is even more symbolic of where it might have taken place: Not at the location of Lok Ma Chow and Lo Wu Primary Border Crossing Points, from the Chinese city of Shenzhen, but in the heart of Hong Kong.
The high-speed train between Shenzhen and Hong Kong crosses only one immigration checkpoint: West Kowloon Station shared by China and Hong Kong at the tip of the Northern Peninsula. In a demonstration before the British Consulate on Wednesday, protesters said Cheng's apparent arrest was probably one of many and linked his detention to years of fears about the station's immigration regime.
While Cheng could be detained at any border checkpoint, the arrest in West Kowloon would be particularly worrying for Hong Kong people who already fear the station will be used by China to expand its control of the city. Reacting to Cheng's arrest, Gary Fan, a pro-democracy MP who voted against the plan, said "this case proves my nightmare has come true."
The "Thin End of the Wedge"
The government has defended the agreement needed for the smooth operation of a $ 10.7 billion station that connects Hong Kong to China's vast high-speed rail network. Authorities said that conducting immigration checks in Hong Kong – the starting or ending point for all train trips – streamlines the process and avoids further checks and delays at the Chinese border.
Hong Kong is governed by a policy known as "one country, two systems" that guarantees freedoms not accessible to those in the mainland, such as the right to protest, the right to free press and freedom of expression.
Beijing critics worry that the move sets a dangerous precedent for allowing Chinese legislation to operate in Hong Kong and will make it easier for officials to detain Beijing critics and carry them across the border.
Rebecca Wright and Julia Hollingsworth of CNN contributed to the reporting.