HONG KONG • A close friend of missing Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai has said it is highly unlikely that Mr Gui would go to the mainland to turn himself in for a drink-driving offence committed in 2003, South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.
Rights campaigners, meanwhile, dismissed an apparent confession by Mr Gui on Chinese state television as "worthless" and a "smokescreen" yesterday, while the city's leader distanced himself from the case.
Mr Gui, a naturalised Swedish citizen, is one of five missing booksellers from a Hong Kong-based publisher. Their disappearance was purportedly linked to a planned book about Chinese President Xi Jinping's past romances.
The case has sparked alarm in the city. Despite deep public concern, Hong Kong leader Leung Chun Ying refused to discuss it. "The Gui Minhai case has not been reported to the Hong Kong police or... government," he told media, reported Agence France-Presse.
A weeping Mr Gui, 51, in his confession on state broadcaster CCTV on Sunday, said he had returned to China to "take legal responsibilities" for killing a college student in a car accident 11 years ago. He said he had fled the mainland after he was convicted of the crime, despite receiving only a two-year suspended sentence.
Mr Bei Ling, a dissident poet who has been friends with Mr Gui since 1984, told SCMP that Mr Gui was indeed involved in a drink-driving case, but it was highly unlikely he would return to the mainland to hand himself in.
He also revealed that he and Mr Gui's friends had obtained closed-circuit television footage showing Mr Gui leaving with a young Chinese man from the bookseller's holiday home in Pattaya last October - the last time he was seen before the TV broadcast.
Two weeks after Mr Gui went missing, four unknown Chinese men entered his Thailand home and tried to take away his computer, Mr Bei said.
From the legal standpoint, the video is worthless... Where is he? Under what authority is he detained? What are the circumstances under which he gave this interview? We cannot exclude the possibility that he made the statement under duress.
MR NICHOLAS BEQUELIN, Amnesty International's East Asia director, on Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai's televised confession
"What has happened to him is abduction conducted by a country," Mr Bei told SCMP from Boston. He said Mr Gui's daughter, Angela, told him she also had serious doubts over the authenticity of the reports. She also wanted to visit her father on the mainland, Mr Bei added.
Amnesty International East Asia director Nicholas Bequelin said Mr Gui's confession raises more questions than answers.
"From the legal standpoint, the video is worthless," Mr Bequelin told AFP. "Where is he? Under what authority is he detained? What are the circumstances under which he gave this interview?
"We cannot exclude the possibility that he made the statement under duress."
Separately, Mr Gui's colleague, Mr Lee Bo, who also went missing late last month, has purportedly written a letter to his wife, saying that he had gone voluntarily to the mainland to assist with investigations. The letter, dated Jan 17, was published yesterday by SCMP.
In it, Mr Lee also said Mr Gui has been involved in other crimes and is "a morally unacceptable person" who causes him trouble.
Mr Lee, 65, also called on people to stop "attacking" the "one China, two systems", under which Hong Kong is granted extensive autonomy by Beijing.
"I hope people and organisations wanting to pursue their own agendas will stop blowing up and sensationalising the fact that I voluntarily returned to the mainland to assist in investigations," Mr Lee's letter said.