Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying said there was no indication so far outside agents were involved in the disappearance of five booksellers specialising in publications critical of China, but that it would be “unacceptable” if any were.
The disappearances have stoked fears of mainland Chinese authorities using shadowy tactics that erode the “one country, two systems” formula under which the former British colony has been governed since its return to Chinese rule in 1997.
Lee Bo, 65, a shareholder of Causeway Bay Books, “vanished” last week, according to a missing person report filed by Lee’s wife.
Four associates involved in publishing or selling literature critical of Beijing have also gone missing in mysterious circumstances over the past few months.
Hong Kong opposition lawmakers protested outside Beijing’s representative office over the disappearance.
“We are highly concerned with this case,” said Beijing-backed Hong Kong leader Leung. He added there was “no indication” so far that Lee may have been kidnapped by Chinese State Security agents in the financial hub and whisked across the border to China, though investigations were ongoing.
“If mainland (Chinese) law enforcement personnel enforce the law in Hong Kong, this is unacceptable because it breaches the Basic Law,” Leung said, referring to the city’s mini-constitution, in rare comments defending Hong Kong’s autonomy.
The Basic Law guarantees wide-ranging personal freedoms, including freedom of speech, and independent law enforcement overseen by an independent judiciary.
Lee’s wife said her husband had phoned her to say he was “assisting” in an investigation, despite having left his travel document at home.
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