I was not kidnapped by Chinese agents, says HK bookseller

A pro-democracy demonstrator posting portraits of Hong Kong bookseller Lee Bo (top left) and Mighty Current publishing house's general manager Lui Por outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong on Jan 3, during a protest to call for an investiga
A pro-democracy demonstrator posting portraits of Hong Kong bookseller Lee Bo (top left) and Mighty Current publishing house's general manager Lui Por outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong on Jan 3, during a protest to call for an investigation into the disappearance of five staff members of the Hong Kong publishing house and bookstore.PHOTO: REUTERS

Illegal mainland visit was to help in probe involving colleagues, he says on television

Hong Kong bookseller Lee Bo has denied on Chinese television that he had been abducted by mainland security agents when he mysteriously disappeared two months ago.

Amid fears in the city of increasing interference from Beijing, Mr Lee said in an interview that claims he had been kidnapped were "absolutely untrue".

In his first public appearance since vanishing on Dec 30, he told private Phoenix TV he had decided to illegally cross the border to help in an investigation involving colleagues at his publishing company, Mighty Current, known for gossipy content about Chinese leaders.

"Allegations of kidnapping are pure fabrication - made with a hidden agenda," the 65-year-old said.

During the 20-minute interview, Mr Lee - who is also a British citizen - added that he would renounce his residency rights in Britain because people had "made use of it" to "complicate matters".

The British government said last month he was probably "involuntarily removed" in what would have been a "serious breach" of the Sino-British treaty governing the handover of Hong Kong to China.

The episode has contributed to fading confidence in the one country, two systems framework which spells out Hong Kong's legal autonomy. Under its Basic Law, no overseas law enforcement agencies can operate in Hong Kong.

Smiling regularly, Mr Lee spoke on Monday night in Cantonese - an indication that the interview was aimed at Hong Kongers.

The interview was met with scepticism here by political analysts and pro-democracy lawmakers, who called for Mr Lee's return to Hong Kong where he would be "genuinely free" to explain his situation.

"There is still a big question mark," Mr James To of the Democratic Party said yesterday.

Analyst Johnny Lau said it was curious that the interview was not conducted with Hong Kong media. He said it had not assuaged the fears of Hong Kongers that they, too, could be spirited away by the mainland authorities. "The one country, two systems principle is in a precarious position."

Secretary for Security Lai Tung Kwok yesterday said the department would look into how Mr Lee had left the city "by his own means".

There were suspicions he had been seized due to politically sensitive material published by Mighty Current, which also runs a bookshop in Causeway Bay popular with mainland tourists. When Mr Lee disappeared, his travel papers were at home, said his wife then.

Four of his colleagues had vanished last October - one in Thailand and three on the mainland. They later appeared in televised confessions saying they are guilty of, variously, drink driving and selling "unauthorised" books to customers on the mainland.

In the interview, Mr Lee said he was on the mainland as a witness for the investigation into his colleagues and had left Hong Kong illegally because he was afraid of reprisals from their families.

He denounced colleague Gui Minhai - who had earlier been convicted of a fatal drink driving accident - as being a person of "dubious morality". Gui used the company to publish books that are "full of nonsense and made-up stories".

"This (my case) has nothing to do with one country, two systems or the safety of Hong Kongers," he said. "Now that you have watched the interview, I hope you will leave my family and me alone."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2016, with the headline 'I was not kidnapped by Chinese agents, says HK bookseller'. Print Edition | Subscribe