Only the truth about what really happened to bookseller Lee Po will calm the jitters in Hong Kong
John Chan says total honesty from Beijing on the case would do more to win over local hearts and minds than any propaganda war it can mount against seekers of Hong Kong independence
The bits of information provided by Lee Po since his return from the mainland more than three months after he mysteriously vanished have not helped to clear the suspicion and widely held belief that he did not voluntarily smuggle himself across the border.
When his wife filed a missing person report after he went missing, Lee phoned and faxed his wife from the mainland telling her that he went “by means of his own choice”. The fact that there is no record of his passing through immigration control on leaving Hong Kong last December raised doubts about his statement.
If he did so, as he has repeatedly stressed, there are two unanswered questions. They arose from Lee’s interview with Mingjing News , a Chinese-language news portal based in New York. In the interview, Lee said that last December he felt that, as a boss, he was obliged to help his three employees then being held by mainland authorities, saying that “someone asked me whether I was willing to return [to the mainland].” He also said a friend made arrangements for him but refused to reveal who accompanied him.
Thus, the first question is: who was that person who suggested or invited him to go to the mainland and did he go under duress?
The second question is: if it was suggested he go, or he was invited to go to sort out his employees’ plight, why would he not choose to do so through the normal border control checkpoint, like everyone else?
It is thus hard for ordinary people to take what Lee said as the whole truth and stop asking questions surrounding his mysterious disappearance and seemingly carefully staged reappearance.
It is even more difficult to ask people to put the matter to rest and stop the wild guessing that he did not go voluntarily.
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If Lee did not go to the mainland voluntarily, it is a serious matter. Was he threatened, or even abducted by Chinese law enforcement personnel? Or was he kidnapped by local gangsters connected to the public security ministry, as suggested by legislator Albert Ho Chun-yan in a radio programme?
Either way, the questions remain. Even if Lee gave a detailed account of his version of events, I still doubt whether most people would believe what he said.
It would be a great threat to Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and a fatal blow to its judicial independence if mainland law enforcement personnel were found to be involved in any way. The fact that the ripples of concern are still spreading around Hong Kong, with the public fearing that mainland authorities are no longer adhering strictly to “one country, two systems” cannot be ignored.
Only Beijing can remove that fear. A true picture of what happened can only emerge when Beijing honestly and fully discloses Lee’s account to the authorities of how he went to the mainland. A responsible government is obliged to seek out the truth and show people the true picture, while also frankly admitting any potential wrongdoing and holding those responsible to account.
We are seeing Beijing wage a propaganda war against Hong Kong independence seekers in an attempt to win Hongkongers’ hearts. However, the central authorities’ continued silence on the Lee Po incident has resulted in just the opposite.
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I dare say that an honest, frank and full disclosure of the events would be 100 times more effective in winning over the hearts and minds of Hong Kong people, and their loyalty towards the motherland, than the war of words with independence seekers.
John Chan is a practising solicitor and a founding member of the Democratic Party