Disappearance of Hong Kong bookseller Lee Bo another reason to worry about joint checkpoint

City’s officials will have to guarantee that mainland officers will not be allowed to arrest or detain Hongkongers at joint immigration channel for express rail

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 January, 2016, 1:10am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 2:59pm

Most Hong Kong people now rightly fret about the disappearance of a group of local booksellers who specialise in publications banned on the mainland. But officials probably have something else to worry about: the proposed joint checkpoint for the upcoming Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express rail link.

I am sure most of our top officials are decent people who care about the fate of our citizens. Still, the disappearances could not have come at a worse time when officials are trying hard to sell the joint checkpoint idea, most likely to be set up in the West Kowloon terminus.

There is a very real possibility that at least one bookseller, Lee Bo, was taken clandestinely across the border by mainland security personnel shortly before the new year. That is precisely what some people are worried about – that mainland security officers could search, question and detain Hong Kong people who have not committed any local offence at the joint checkpoint. Hong Kong police are now trying to determine what happened to Lee from their mainland counterparts.

If he is really being detained on the mainland after being smuggled out of Hong Kong, that would indeed be a clear breach of the “one country ,two systems” principle, as Executive Council member Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun has acknowledged.

But with a joint rail checkpoint, the fear is that the detention of Hong Kong people by mainland officers could be done legally. Senior Hong Kong officials have insisted that any joint checkpoint arrangement would comply with the Basic Law and “one country ,two systems”. But that’s an empty statement, especially in light of Lee’s case.

After all, mistaken identities have landed a few innocent people in Guantanamo Bay. I once interviewed an actor-businessman who legally owned guns in Hong Kong and consulted with filmmakers on weapons. He also happened to have the same name as a well-known former Democratic Party legislator and had been mistaken for the latter more than once at mainland border checkpoints.

Unless Hong Kong officials can guarantee that mainland officers cannot arrest or detain local residents or request local officers to do it for them at the joint checkpoint, people will not be reassured, especially in light of Lee’s case.