HONG KONG • Police in Hong Kong have written to Chinese security officials asking to meet a missing bookseller from the city after Beijing for the first time confirmed that the man was on the mainland, media reported yesterday.
A Hong Kong government spokesman said police had received information from the public security department of Guangdong province, which borders Hong Kong, that Mr Lee Bo was in China.
Also enclosed in Guangdong's correspondence was a letter from Mr Lee to the Hong Kong government, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) said.
In the letter, Mr Lee said he was assisting with investigations, and blamed one of his missing associates, Mr Gui Minhai, for getting him involved in the case.
The news will add to fears of pro-democracy lawmakers, activists and some residents in Hong Kong who believe the mainland authorities are kidnapping critics to try to silence dissent.
Mr Lee, who works for a publishing house that sells titles critical of Beijing, was last seen on Dec 30. He is the fifth employee of the Mighty Current publishing house to go missing in recent months.
Three were in China when they vanished, but the disappearance of Mr Lee from Hong Kong and Mr Gui from Thailand has raised fears that the Chinese authorities are operating internationally.
SCMP reported that the correspondence from Guangdong officials did not mention the other three missing booksellers.
City officials have been lambasted for what critics call a weak response to the disappearances.
Democratic lawmaker Lee Cheuk Yan said: "People in Hong Kong want to know the truth. Why is (Lee Bo) in the mainland and how did he end up there?" He accused the government of "being passive", and pressed Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying to take up the issue with Beijing.
Mr Gui, a mainland-born, naturalised Swedish citizen who went missing three months ago, appeared, weeping, on Chinese state television on Sunday. He claimed he had returned to China to "take legal responsibilities" for killing a student in a car accident 11 years ago.
Rights campaigners said the confession was a "smokescreen" to play down concerns that Mr Gui was being detained for his work.
In the strongest statement yet by anyone in Hong Kong's pro-China camp, Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang on Monday said the taped confession by Mr Gui was not enough. "As the case drags on, there will be more speculation," he added.
Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 after 150 years as a British colony. Under a "one country, two systems" agreement, the semi-autonomous city is guaranteed freedoms that are not available on the mainland.
However, campaigns for greater democracy have been stymied and activists fear Beijing is imposing its authoritarian stamp on the city.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS