Hong Kong’s leader has appealed for information after the mysterious disappearance of five people linked to a publisher of books critical of China.
C.Y. Leung said there was “no indication” that those reported missing had been taken to mainland China by Chinese security agents, an accusation raised by some opposition political leaders in Hong Kong.
Instead, Leung stressed that only Hong Kong law enforcement agencies had the legal authority to enforce laws here.
“Anyone who thinks they have information that may lead to a better understanding of the whereabouts and the reasons why they seem to be missing from Hong Kong would be welcome to provide such information to the Hong Kong government authorities,” he said.
Albert Ho, a pro-democracy lawmaker, told CNN that he believed that Lee Bo, 65, a major shareholder in Causeway Bay Books, had been taken across the border to China against his will.
“It’s a forced disappearance. All those who have disappeared are related to the Causeway Bay bookshop and this bookshop was famous, not only for the sale, but also for the publication and circulation of a series of sensitive books,” said Ho.
Ho said that the publishing house had been planning on publishing a book about the “love affairs” of China’s President Xi Jinping during his time working “in the provinces.”
Lee was reported missing to police Friday. Swedish national Gui Minhai, the owner of the publishing house Mighty Current that owns the bookstore, disappeared while on holiday in Thailand, the South China Morning Post reported.
The Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs said its embassies in Bangkok and Beijing were investigating reports that a Swedish national had been detained in Thailand or China.
Missing persons reports were also filed for three other associates in November, according to Hong Kong police and local media.
Protests were held outside Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong Sunday and Monday.
The case has raised concerns over the rule of law in Hong Kong, which, as a Chinese special administrative region or SAR, has its own legal system and enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland.
“The government has a duty to assure Hong Kong people that they are protected under one country, two systems by our law. Not only are mainland laws inapplicable in Hong Kong, no mainland officials, including law enforcement agencies, can take the law into their own hands in Hong Kong,” said Ho.
Hua Chunying, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, told journalists at a regularly-scheduled press conference that she had no information about the case.
An opinion piece published in the Global Times newspaper, a state-run tabloid, said it was meaningless to engage in political speculation about their disappearance.
Mighty Current is known for publishing titles on political scandals that are popular buys for mainland Chinese tourists visiting the city.
Ho said that Lee vanished Wednesday while delivering books to customers in Hong Kong.
His wife told CNN affiliate iCable that she later received a brief phone call from her husband from what appeared to be a Shenzhen number — the southern Chinese city closest to Hong Kong.
A police source told the South China Morning Post that there was no record of Lee leaving the city. Ho said that Lee had told friends and family that he had no plans to visit mainland China given what had happened to his associates.
Alan Leong, a lawmaker and leader of the pro-democracy Civic Party, told CNN said that the disappearance of Lee and his colleagues had made Hong Kong residents anxious.
“Hong Kong citizens are entitled to feel safe walking in the streets of Hong Kong. Or to publish anything in Hong Kong.”
“The speed with which the SAR government, or chief executive, have chosen to react to this incident that makes Hong Kong people anxious (and) leaves much to be desired.”
Under mounting pressure to respond to the disappearance of so many critics of the Beijing government, Leung said that freedoms of press, publication and expression are legally-protected in the former British colony.