Causeway Bay bookseller Lee Bo does not want the public to hype up the attention around him, the Permanent Mission of China to the UN in Geneva said on Tuesday. The press statement was in response to comments by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, urging China to afford Lee and other detained booksellers fair and transparent treatment.

Five Hong Kong booksellers behind a banned book store in Causeway Bay went missing last year – all are now thought to be in detention in the mainland.

“Lee repeatedly clarified that he voluntarily went back to mainland China for assisting in the investigation, and is safe and sound,” the statement read. The nature of the investigation and how Lee came to arrive in China remain unclear.

Lee Bo. File

Another bookseller, Gui Minhai, was said to be involved not only in the killing of a girl while drunk driving and speeding, but also in “other illegal and criminal activities”.

“[H]is case is complicated and still under further proceedings. The other booksellers are all involved in Gui’s case.”

‘Worrying pattern’

Hussein sought clarification on the recent arrests and criticised China’s treatment of lawyers and activists. He said that there was a “worrying pattern” of the government using national security to restrict freedoms.

“Security and human rights do not contradict each other… Respect for human rights and public participation are key to ensuring rule of law and national security,” he added.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. File Photo: UN.

Lee Bo, a British national, was reported missing in Hong Kong on January 1, sparking widespread speculation about his whereabouts and how he left Hong Kong without travel documents. The Chinese police confirmed Lee was in China on January 18 and that Lee’s wife had met him in the mainland. He is one of the five booksellers from Causeway Bay Books to have gone missing in recent months.

Gui Minhai, a Swedish national, vanished in Thailand on October 17. Thai authorities have confirmed that they have no record of him leaving the country. He was last seen on Chinese state television “confessing” to evading a suspended two-year prison term over a drunk driving death 13 years ago. He is confirmed to be in Chinese custody but his exact whereabouts remain unknown.

Gui Minhai in his television confession. Photo: CCTV screencap.

Both Britain and Sweden had asked China to release the missing booksellers. Sweden sent an investigative team to Thailand while the UK said that Lee was “involuntarily removed” from Hong Kong. China blasted Britain’s claim, accusing them of interference in domestic affairs.

‘Blackmail’ charges

On Tuesday, Bowen Press reported that Lee, taking advantage of press freedom in Hong Kong, allegedly published negative books about well-known people in politics and business, blackmailing them to buy out all of the publications to prevent bad press. Under Chinese law, he could face up to 10 years in jail should he be convicted of blackmail. The report, citing sources “close to the authorities”, appeared on the US-backed Bowen Press website, which is affiliated with the Boxun News network.

Hermina Wong

Hermina is a Hong Kong writer and journalist. She graduated with a degree in politics from Cambridge, and is interested in international affairs, particularly those related to China, the EU and the Middle East. She also enjoys political satire.