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Hong Kong bookseller disappearances

Hong Kong is right to worry about the disappearance of bookseller Lee Bo and his associates

Even the justice minister voices concern because at stake is the ‘one country, two systems’ principle and the protection of people holding foreign passports

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 January, 2016, 1:25am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 January, 2016, 1:25am

The case of five missing Hong Kong booksellers involved in publications banned on the mainland is still shrouded in mystery. Nearly two weeks have passed since news of their disappearance made local and international headlines but authorities on both sides of the border are still unable to shed new light on their whereabouts. Meanwhile, disturbing remarks and speculation abound. They do nothing to maintain confidence in the “one country, two systems” principle that is the foundation of governance in Hong Kong. What the public needs are answers and assurances from credible authorities.

The public has yet to be given convincing explanations as to why and how Lee Bo and his associates at Causeway Bay Books have gone missing one after another since late last year. The suggestions range from Lee having returned to the mainland voluntarily to assist in investigations to Lee having been abducted by mainland law enforcers. Such accounts do nothing to clear the air. Worse, they fuel more doubts about the freedoms and civil liberties protected by the Basic Law .

Adding to the sensitivity is the nationality issue. As Lee and another missing colleague hold a British and Swedish passport respectively, the two nations and the European Union have expressed concerns over the case. The United States also weighed in over the weekend. Beijing, however, takes a different view, saying that the two are “first and foremost” Chinese. The row has inevitably turned the spotlight on the wider issue of Chinese holding foreign passports, even though the law says they are not entitled to consular protection in China and Hong Kong.

Sunday’s rally in Hong Kong on the issue reportedly drew more than 3,500 people. This came despite news reports saying Lee’s wife had received a video of her husband trying to clear the air and urging people not to take to the streets. The turnout underlines the growing unease in the local community.

Urging people not to jump to conclusions, the secretary for justice yesterday reiterated that it would be unlawful for officials from other jurisdictions to take law enforcement actions in the city. Pressure is growing on the government to find out whether this has been the case and if so, how it will be followed up to prevent a reoccurrence. The police have already sought assistance from the relevant mainland authorities and are seeking their prompt response. If the call remains unanswered, the government should turn to the central government for clarification. At stake is confidence in the “one country, two systems” model.