HONG KONG – The mystery surrounding five missing Hong Kong booksellers known for titles banned in mainland China deepened after one purportedly wrote to say he was fine and helping with an investigation, prompting his wife to drop a missing person’s report.
Hong Kong police said late Monday that Lee Bo’s wife canceled the report, but that they would continue investigating the other cases. They didn’t say whether Lee had been located.
Lee and four other people associated with publisher Mighty Current, which specializes in books critical of China’s Communist Party leaders, have vanished in recent months.
Their disappearances have prompted fears that Beijing is eroding the “one country, two systems principle” that’s been in place since Britain ceded control in 1997 and that grants Hong Kong civil liberties nonexistent on the mainland, including freedom of the press.
Lee’s disappearance has triggered speculation that Chinese security agents entered Hong Kong to abduct and spirit him to the mainland.
Four other people linked to the company went missing in October, but they were last seen either in mainland China or Thailand.
Taiwan’s Central News Agency first reported late Monday on Lee’s handwritten faxed letter, which was then circulated by Chinese-language media in Hong Kong.
The letter, addressed to an employee at the publishing company’s Causeway Bay Bookstore, said: “Due to some urgent matters that I need to handle and that aren’t to be revealed to the public, I have made way own way back to the mainland in order to cooperate with the investigation by relevant parties.”
“It might take a bit of time,” it said. “My current situation is very well. All is normal.”
The letter gave no details about what the investigation was related to.
Local media reported that Lee’s wife, Choi Ka-ping, asked police to drop the missing person’s report after learning of the letter, the authenticity of which could not be independently confirmed. Choi’s phone number was written on the fax, but calls to her went unanswered.
However, Hong Kong lawmakers and human rights activists were skeptical that the letter proved Lee was safe.
“If he did indeed write the letter, it was almost certainly written under duress,” said William Nee, Amnesty International’s China researcher. “What we see in mainland China all the time is that police and state security put enormous pressure on family members not to speak to media and not to raise a fuss on social media. If indeed it was state security that detained Lee Bo, one wonders whether the same tactics are being used to silence family members here in Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong police still have missing person’s files open for the three other Mighty Current staff members or shareholders. A fifth person, Gui Minhai, a Swedish national who is one of the company’s owners, went missing in Thailand in October, according to Hong Kong media and human rights groups.
Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesman Joakim Edvardsson said Monday that the government was “very concerned” that a Swedish national had disappeared. He declined to name the person, in line with Foreign Ministry policy, but said he was in his 50s.
“Our embassies in Beijing and Bangkok are working with this case,” he said. “We have also raised the issue with Thailand’s embassy” in Stockholm.