Guangdong authorities have belatedly confirmed widespread suspicions that they have detained three missing booksellers from Hong Kong, Apple Daily reported Friday.
Hong Kong police said in a statement at 10 p.m. Thursday the Guangdong provincial Public Security Department (PSD) had told them “it was understood” that the three men associated with the Causeway Bay Bookstore were being investigated in relation to a criminal case against a person surnamed Gui and were suspected of being involved in illegal activities in the mainland.
Gui happens to be the surname of Gui Minhai, a shareholder in the bookstore’s parent company, Mighty Current Media Ltd., who disappeared in October from his holiday home in Thailand.
Gui said in a tearful confession on state broadcaster CCTV last month that he turned himself in to mainland authorities last year after fleeing the mainland in 2004. He had been handed a suspended sentence that year for a fatal drunk driving accident in 2003.
Lui Por, a shareholder in Mighty Current; Lam Wing-kee, the bookstore’s manager; and Cheung Chi-ping, an employee, also went missing in October, in their case while separately visiting family in the mainland.
Hong Kong police said the Guangdong PSD forwarded them a letter from Mighty Current shareholder Lee Bo, who disappeared from Hong Kong in December and later told his wife, Sophie Choi Ka-ping, he was helping mainland authorities with an investigation.
In the letter, Lee said he does not need to have a meeting with Hong Kong police but would contact them if needed.
Police said they verified the handwriting with Choi, who confirmed the letter is from Lee.
Sweden’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs said it has no updates on Gui, who holds a Swedish passport, and it is still seeking clarification from the Chinese authorities.
Meanwhile, Gui’s wife, Jannies, who lives in Germany, refused media interviews.
Democratic Party legislator James To Kun-sun said the Guangdong PSD’s explanation was full of flaws.
“It is absurd for them to portray a case in which the three booksellers were trying to cover up Gui’s alleged crime of causing a death while drunk driving 12 years ago,” To said.
He said that if Lee is free, as the PSD suggested, he should arrange to meet Hong Kong police to clear the air.
The lawmaker has urged Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to seek help from the central government in the case of the booksellers.
Political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the latest developments suggest that the mainland authorities are tightening their grip on the matter, Ming Pao Daily reported Friday.
Lau said it is particularly worrying that the PSD’s update was phrased in an indirect manner, as though it had learned of the three men’s situation from another source.
The PSD also failed to specify the charges faced by the three booksellers and where they are being detained, Lau said.
Ming Pao quoted New People’s Party lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress (NPC), as saying he wrote to mainland public security departments in early January to enquire about the status of the missing Hongkongers.
Tien said that as he has yet to receive a reply, the Guangdong PSD is being blatantly disrespectful to the NPC.
He said four of the booksellers went missing in October last year, and if the Guangdong authorities could only inform Hong Kong police now of what happened to them, it means the mutual notification mechanism between mainland and Hong Kong police is no longer working.
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