- Hong Kong authorities ask China for meeting with Lee Bo
- Lee's disappearance fueled fears of Chinese encroachment
Chinese police have confirmed that a Hong Kong publisher of books critical of the Communist Party who disappeared from the city in late December is in China, ending weeks of silence about his whereabouts.
Police in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong sent a letter to Hong Kong authorities stating that the bookseller, Lee Bo, was in China, Hong Kong police said on the government’s website. The Hong Kong police have requested a meeting with Lee to further understand the incident, they said.
Hong Kong has been pressing China for information about Lee since he disappeared from a warehouse for his bookshop in the city. Lee’s wife initially filed a missing person report on Lee, who was not carrying his travel permit for China with him when he vanished.
The case has raised concern that China is encroaching on Hong Kong’s autonomy enshrined in the “one country, two systems” principle that guarantees the independence of the city’s legal system and liberties such as freedom of speech. The Hong Kong government of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying had requested information on Lee from the Chinese authorities as long ago as Jan. 3, and China has yet to explain how the publisher got across the border. Thousands of people demonstrated outside China’s liaison office on Jan. 10, demanding information about his fate.
“The Hong Kong government needs to prove it is taking the freedom of expression and the high degree of autonomy guaranteed by the Basic Law seriously,” said William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong. “The mainland side would be much better served if it could carry out these investigations according to the law.”
Chinese authorities also enclosed a letter from Lee similar to one he sent to his wife, who confirmed the handwriting was her husband’s, the Hong Kong government said in the statement. In the original letter, Lee said he was in China assisting in an investigation, Sing Tao newspaper reported.
Lee was the fifth person linked to the shop, Causeway Bay Books, to disappear since October. The first to go missing was Gui Minhai, one of the most prolific writers of the often salacious books sold at the shop primarily to mainland tourists. Gui, a Swedish national, vanished from an apartment he owned in Pattaya, Thailand in October. He reappeared on Sunday on Chinese state-controlled television, saying he had turned himself over to police for a 2004 drunk-driving accident and asking Swedish authorities to respect his decision to turn himself in.
Beijing has been under pressure from both Sweden and the U.K. to provide information about the disappearances of the men. Lee is a British passport holder, and U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Jan. 5 that he should be tried in Hong Kong if accused of any offense. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded by saying that foreign powers should not interfere in the country’s internal affairs.
“We remain deeply concerned by the disappearance and possible detention on the mainland of five individuals associated with the Causeway Bay Books bookstore in Hong Kong,” the British government said in a statement in response to queries. “We have urgently requested both the Hong Kong and mainland authorities’ assistance in ascertaining the welfare and whereabouts of a British citizen involved in the case.”
In the Jan. 17 letter to his wife, Lee said that Gui may have been involved in criminal activities and blamed the writer for getting him into trouble, Sing Tao newspaper reported. The letter said Hong Kong people had been hyping up the case and using it to attack “one country, two systems,” the concept that guarantees the city’s autonomy.
“The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has noted the reports in the media that Gui Minhai has been detained, and we are continuing to request clarification,” said Gabriella Augustsson, a spokeswoman at Sweden’s embassy in Beijing. Sweden’s Deputy Finance Minister Per Bolund has raised the issue with authorities during visits to China and Hong Kong, she said.