Missing Hong Kong bookseller says in video China trip voluntary

A demonstrator wears a mask depicting Causeway Bay Books shareholder Lee Bo during a protest over the disappearances, in Hong Kong, China, on Jan 10, 2016.
A demonstrator wears a mask depicting Causeway Bay Books shareholder Lee Bo during a protest over the disappearances, in Hong Kong, China, on Jan 10, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - A Hong Kong bookseller, whose disappearance has inflamed concerns about growing Chinese interference in the city, told his wife in a video message that he travelled to the mainland on his own accord, the Sing Tao newspaper reported.

Lee Bo - one of five missing people who are affiliated with a company that published and sold books critical of the ruling Communist Party - said in a 46-second recording received Saturday (Jan 9) that his decision to cross the border was a personal one, the paper reported, citing an interview with his wife. Lee, who also sent a letter, asked people to respect his privacy and not join a planned protest over the case, the newspaper said Sunday (Jan 10).

Lee's disappearance, which was reported by his wife on Jan 1, has reignited debate about the Communist Party's influence in Hong Kong, a former British colony that enjoys independent courts and guaranteed freedom of expression under the terms of its return to China. Fears of encroachment under Chinese President Xi Jinping sparked the student-led democracy protests that paralysed parts of the city for months in 2014.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China plans to stage a rally on Sunday demanding answers from the mainland on the disappearance of Lee and four of his colleagues, Radio Television Hong Kong said. Lee's case has drawn particular interest because he was last seen in Hong Kong, where mainland police do not have jurisdiction under the so-called One Country, Two Systems framework.

While mainland authorities have not commented, the disappearances prompted Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to express concern and reaffirm that only local authorities could enforce the law. Hong Kong police are investigating and have not disclosed if mainland authorities have told them about the case.

BANNED BOOKS

Lee's bookstore, Causeway Bay Books, was popular among tourists from China as a source of often salacious books, banned on the mainland, about the country's elite. He was last seen leaving a warehouse on Hong Kong Island used by the company.

Lee has made repeated contact with associates in Hong Kong since his disappearance. Taiwan's Central News Agency last Monday (Jan 4) published a handwritten letter said to be faxed from Lee to a bookstore colleague. In it, he said he took his "own way" to China to assist in an investigation that might take some time. Lee's wife approached local police on Jan 4 and withdrew a request for help, but Hong Kong police have continued their investigation.

The assertion that Lee would travel to the mainland on his own conflicts with his remarks to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post before his disappearance. In an interview about his missing colleagues, he said he was not worried about his own safety because he had avoided travelling to the mainland for many years, the newspaper reported on Jan 7.