Hong Kong bookseller disappearances

The Hong Kong and mainland authorities must solve mystery of missing bookseller Lee Bo

Chief Executive CY Leung has set the right tone by voicing concern over the disappearance of publisher, who rumours say is being detained in Shenzhen

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 January, 2016, 12:54am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 January, 2016, 12:54am

The mystery of a missing Hong Kong bookseller specialising in publications critical of the Chinese Communist Party has caused alarm in the community. What exactly happened remains unclear at this stage. But the case has already fuelled worries. The grave concern expressed by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has set the right tone. A full answer has to come after a thorough investigation by authorities on both sides.

Lee Bo’s case came to light last Friday, after his associates at Causeway Bay Books also reportedly disappeared one after another over the past few months. Lee’s wife said he called her from a Shenzhen phone number on the weekend, saying he was helping investigations related to the previous disappearances. She was told not to play up the incident.

A commentary in the state-run newspaper Global Times criticised the bookshop for profiting from selling prohibited books to visitors from across the border, saying stability on the mainland had been undermined. There is no concrete evidence to make any conclusion at this stage. But adding to the mystery is the disturbing report that Lee’s entry permit to the mainland is still at his home in Hong Kong and that the Immigration Department had no record of him leaving the city.

The prompt response from the chief executive is to be welcomed. He said it would be unacceptable and unconstitutional if mainland agencies were found to be taking law enforcement action in Hong Kong. Stressing that the Basic Law made it clear that only law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong had the authority to do so, he pledged to investigate. Under the cross-border notification mechanism on law enforcement, criminal actions involving residents on the other side of the border must be reported promptly. Lee’s wife said her husband was assisting investigations in Shenzhen. If this is the case, it has to be asked why the Hong Kong police have not been informed.

The lack of information makes any judgment difficult at this time. But the case has understandably stoked fears of mainland law enforcers overstepping their bounds. The public attaches great importance to civil liberties and freedoms, which are protected by the Basic Law. Unauthorised cross-border law enforcement is in breach of the “one country, two systems” principle and will not be accepted. The government has the responsibility to safeguard the rights and freedoms of citizens. The local and mainland authorities must investigate the matter thoroughly and clear the air.