'Bookseller involuntarily removed from HK to China'

Serious breach of Sino-UK treaty, says British Foreign Secretary

HONG KONG • Britain said yesterday that a missing Hong Kong seller of gossipy books on China's leaders had likely been "involuntarily removed" to China from Hong Kong, constituting a "serious breach" of a longstanding bilateral treaty between the UK and China.

In a six-monthly report to Parliament on the state of freedoms in the former British colony, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond wrote that Mr Lee Bo, a British passport holder who disappeared from Hong Kong in late December, was likely taken to China against his will. "Our current information indicates that Mr Lee was involuntarily removed to the mainland without any due process under Hong Kong SAR law," Mr Hammond wrote in a foreword.

It was the strongest indication so far by London that Mr Lee, who surfaced in China last month, was abducted, though Mr Hammond did not specify by whom and how, or give any further details.

"This constitutes a serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong and undermines the principle of 'One Country, Two Systems', which assures Hong Kong residents of the protection of the Hong Kong legal system," Mr Hammond added, referring to the 1984 treaty that paved the way for Hong Kong's 1997 return to China.

China has previously said that Hong Kong's autonomy is fully respected and no foreign officials had the right to interfere.

NO DUE PROCESS

Our current information indicates that Mr Lee was involuntarily removed to the mainland without any due process under Hong Kong SAR law. This constitutes a serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong and undermines the principle of 'One Country, Two Systems', which assures Hong Kong residents of the protection of the Hong Kong legal system.

BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY PHILIP HAMMOND, on Mr Lee Bo, a bookseller in Hong Kong and British passport holder.

Besides Mr Lee, four of his book-selling associates have also gone missing over the past few months, including Mr Gui Minhai, a Swedish national who disappeared from Pattaya, Thailand, late last year and who last month made a tearful confession on Chinese state television to a fatal drink-driving incident over a decade ago.

The Chinese authorities indicated last week that three of the five Hong Kong booksellers who went missing were being investigated for unspecified "illegal activities".

China's reluctance to provide information and its refusal to allow British and Swedish envoys access to Mr Lee and Mr Gui - a breach of international conventions - are fuelling a diplomatic crisis, several senior diplomats told Reuters.

"We urge the authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing to take the necessary steps to maintain confidence in the system and the sanctity of the rights, freedoms and values it upholds," wrote Mr Hammond.

China's Foreign Ministry gave no immediate response.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2016, with the headline ''Bookseller involuntarily removed from HK to China''. Print Edition | Subscribe