'Missing' bookseller back in Hong Kong: government

Four booksellers working for a Hong Kong publishing house which specialised in gossipy works about Chinese leaders went missing from various locations in October, with another disappearing at the end of December

One of five "missing" Hong Kong booksellers who was detained on the mainland returned to the city Friday and met police, the government said, in a case that has provoked fears of increasing Chinese interference in the semi-autonomous region. Lui Por, who has been missing since October, was among three of the booksellers who Hong Kong police said earlier this week would be released on bail. "Police met with Lui Por, who returned to Hong Kong from the mainland, this morning," a brief government statement released late Friday said. "Lui requested to have his missing persons case closed and expressed that there was no need for assistance from the Hong Kong government or police," it said, adding he refused to provide any more information. Hong Kong police had said that Lui and his counterparts Cheung Chi Ping and Lam Wing Kee would all be released on bail. However, police on Friday were not able to immediately provide information about Lam and Cheung when contacted by AFP. An unnamed source quoted by the South China Morning Post said Lui was not handed over to the city's police by mainland authorities. Instead, Hong Kong police were sent to meet Lui at his Hong Kong home, according to the newspaper. "He told officers that he was safe and he did not need any assistance from the police," the source said. Meanwhile, pro-democracy lawmaker Albert Ho said Lui "must be very scared" to say he wanted to drop his case. "It's just to show the mainland authorities that he will keep quiet," Ho told AFP. - Tearful confessions - The five booksellers from Hong Kong's Mighty Current publishing house, known for its salacious titles critical of Beijing, went missing last year, only to turn up in mainland China. One who apparently disappeared from Hong Kong, Lee Bo, appeared on television on Monday and insisted he had not been abducted by mainland authorities. In the Phoenix TV interview, Lee said he had "resorted to illegal immigration" to get to the mainland as he did not want to draw attention to his visit and that he made the trip so he could cooperate in an investigation. The other four booksellers, who are under criminal investigation on the mainland, also appeared on Phoenix Sunday admitting to smuggling illicit books into China. In their first appearance since they were detained, Cheung, Lui and Lam blamed the company's illegal book trade on colleague Gui Minhai in their interviews. Gui, a Swedish citizen who was among the five missing, confessed he had "explored ways to circumvent official inspections in China", in the interview Sunday. Amnesty International on Friday sent Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying an open letter regarding the booksellers, pressing for action. "Amnesty International calls for the Hong Kong government to urge the mainland authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the booksellers and facilitate their return to Hong Kong, or another destination of their choice," the letter said. The case has heightened fears of increasing mainland Chinese interference in Hong Kong and sparked international condemnation. Britain had said the disappearance of Lee, a British citizen, was a "serious breach" of an agreement signed with Beijing before the city was handed back to China in 1997 which protects its freedoms for 50 years. Washington has called on China to explain the disappearances and the EU has urged an investigation.