HONG KONG • Thousands of protesters marched through central Hong Kong yesterday, demanding the release of five missing booksellers who are feared to have been detained by the authorities in mainland China.
This came as it emerged yesterday that one of the missing booksellers, Mr Lee Bo, had sent a new letter and a video message to his wife saying he had gone to the mainland of his own accord and asking people to not join a planned protest over the case.
The five missing are from Hong Kong's Mighty Current publishing house known for books critical of Beijing. Their disappearance has fuelled fears that freedoms in the semi-autonomous Chinese city are being eroded. The latest to vanish was Mr Lee, 65, last seen in Hong Kong on Dec 30. Three others earlier went missing in southern China and one in Thailand.
Mr Lee said in a 46-second recording received on Saturday that his decision to cross the border was a personal one, the pro-establishment Sing Tao newspaper reported yesterday, citing an interview with his wife. In a new letter he also reportedly sent to his wife, he urged the people to "stop making a big deal about this issue" and to "respect my choice and privacy".
Separately, the South China Morning Post reported that a sister paper of Sing Tao Daily, Headline News, owned by Mr Charles Ho Tsu Kwok, a national committee member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, reported the news yesterday, quoting sources.
Earlier, in a handwritten note to his wife, Mr Lee said he had made his way on his own to the mainland to attend to an urgent matter.
Pro-democracy lawmakers, activists and some residents believe Mr Lee was kidnapped in Hong Kong by the mainland authorities. They accuse China of trampling on the "one country, two systems" principle under which Hong Kong has been governed since its return by Britain in 1997.
This is intended to preserve Hong Kong's freedoms and way of life for 50 years. Chinese law enforcers have no right to operate in the city.
"We demand the Chinese government immediately explain the situation of the five and release them," Mr Richard Tsoi, an organiser of the march, told protesters through loudspeakers before the rally.
"No to political kidnap!" demonstrators shouted, holding up banners reading "Where are they?" as they marched towards China's representative office in Western district. Organisers said 6,000 people took part. There was no immediate police estimate.
The US State Department said last Friday it was "disturbed" by the reports of disappearances, while the European Union described the lack of information as "extremely worrying".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG