Lawmakers and government officials have commented on Causeway Bay Books’ co-owner Lee Bo’s “admission” that he “smuggled” himself into China, saying that whether Lee had broken any laws would depend on the circumstances.

Pro-democracy lawmaker James To Kun-sun said, “If you pass through immigration borders, checks will be needed, unless you’re like one of the kids in the past who ran past without anyone finding out… but even then, you’ll be breaking the law.”

“But if you didn’t go through those check points, if you took a boat or swam, the helmsman has a legal responsibility to notify the Immigration Department how many passengers he took out of Hong Kong, and the duty is not on the passenger. Unless Lee was the one steering the boat himself – then he would have breached that law.”

James To Kun-sun. File Photo: Now TV screenshot.

“Or, if you were in the restricted area and you smuggled yourself into the mainland through there, then you would have committed the offence of entering a restricted area.”  However, To said that if Lee’s “smuggling” did not fall into any of these scenarios, it would not be covered by Hong Kong law, and that it was a matter of a technicality.

To also said that as long as Lee did not breach any conditions of stay, he can choose to stay in China, but To urged him to return to Hong Kong to close the case, because the government was under a lot of pressure and many citizens were also very concerned about him. “If he’s completely free to do as he wishes [like he says], he could always go back to China after.”

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Under Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu also said that whether Lee Bo broke the law would depend on the circumstances. “On the topic of smuggling, law enforcement will have to look at the actual circumstances of how he left Hong Kong and how he broke the law of Hong Kong. In terms of immigration control, there are control points for sea, land and air routes.”

John Lee Ka-chiu. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

When asked whether the police will stop investigating the incident after Lee Bo asked for the case to be closed, John Lee said that Lee Bo can request many things, but the police have already said they would follow up on the matter.

Meanwhile, pro-Beijing DAB lawmaker Ip Kwok-him asked everyone to respect Lee’s version of events and said, “At this stage, those who want to believe will believe, and those who do not want to will not.” However, Ip said it was certain at this stage that Lee had gone to China voluntarily, according to Lee’s interview and evidence provided by the police.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.