The UK government “remain[s] concerned” over the missing booksellers case, in which five Hong Kong booksellers disappeared near the end of 2015 and resurfaced in the mainland a few months later. The British government made the statement in its six-monthly report on Hong Kong that was published on Wednesday.
In response, the Hong Kong government said in a statement on the same day that the police “have not discovered any evidence indicating that there was ‘law enforcement across the boundary.’”
In what is widely suspected to be a case of cross-border law enforcement, Lee Bo, one of the operators of the Causeway Bay Bookstore, disappeared on December 30 after picking up books for a customer from a warehouse in Chai Wan, an industrial area at the eastern end of Hong Kong Island.
The report said that Lee Bo’s “involuntary removal to the mainland was a serious breach of the Sino–British Joint Declaration.” It urged the Chinese and Hong Kong governments to demonstrate commitment to the One Country, Two Systems principle. It also urged them to “avoid the repetition of any such incident in the future.”
It added that it hopes to see an improved system for sharing information across the border, which was “promised by Chief Executive CY Leung.”
The report also discussed the “key themes” of localists and media freedoms. The report cited the International Federation of Journalists, which said that press freedom in Hong Kong was on the decline. It also cited Reporters Without Borders, which ranked Hong Kong in 70th place in its world press freedom index 2015, a fall from 18th place in 2002.
“To restore confidence in ‘One Country, Two Systems,’ it is essential that Hong Kong continues to enjoy, and is seen to enjoy, the high degree of autonomy and the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Basic Law and guaranteed in international law,” the report said in its conclusion.
The Hong Kong government responded to the concerns saying that Hong Kong has been “exercising a high degree of autonomy” in accordance with the Basic Law and that this “demonstrates the successful implementation of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.”
With regards to media freedoms, it said that the government was “firmly committed” to protecting those freedoms, saying: “every endeavour should be made for journalists to report news professionally and accurately under the principle of editorial autonomy.”
It also said that “foreign governments should not interfere in any form in the internal affairs of Hong Kong.”