Britain expressed deep concern over the disappearance and possible detention in mainland China of five Hong Kong residents associated with a bookshop that sells publications critical of China’s top leadership.
Beijing has been under pressure from both the United Kingdom and Sweden to provide information about the disappearances, Bloomberg News reported.
Lee Bo, a British passport holder, was the fifth person linked to the shop, Causeway Bay Books, to disappear since October.
The first to go missing was Gui Minhai, a Swedish national, who vanished in Pattaya, Thailand in October.
Gui reappeared on Sunday on Chinese state-controlled television, saying he had turned himself over to mainland police for a 2004 drunk-driving accident and asking Swedish authorities to respect his decision.
Meanwhile, Guangdong police sent a letter to Hong Kong authorities stating that Lee was in China, Hong Kong police said on the government’s website, adding that they have requested a meeting with Lee to further understand the incident.
The case has raised concern that China is encroaching on Hong Kong’s autonomy enshrined in the “one country, two systems” principle that guarantees the independence of the city’s legal system and liberties such as freedom of speech.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond raised concerns about Lee’s disappearance in a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing on Jan. 5.
In response, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said foreign powers should not interfere in the country’s internal affairs.
“We remain deeply concerned by the disappearance and possible detention on the mainland of five individuals associated with the Causeway Bay Books bookstore in Hong Kong,” the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement.
“We have urgently requested both the Hong Kong and mainland authorities’ assistance in ascertaining the welfare and whereabouts of a British citizen involved in the case.”
Lee’s wife initially filed a missing person report on Lee, who was not carrying his travel permit for China with him when he vanished, but withdrew it after receiving a letter from him saying he was fine and cooperating with mainland police.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said Hong Kong police have written to the Guangdong Provincial Public Security Department asking to meet with Lee for further clarification on the incident.
Leung said his administration is highly concerned about the case and acknowledged that the community is equally concerned about it.
Sweden is also seeking further information on Gui’s detention.
“The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has noted the reports in the media that Gui Minhai has been detained, and we are continuing to request clarification,” said Gabriella Augustsson, a spokeswoman at Sweden’s embassy in Beijing.
Sweden’s Deputy Finance Minister Per Bolund has raised the issue with authorities during visits to China and Hong Kong, she said.
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