Hong Kong says 'no indication' China involved in case of missing booksellers

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Missing Bookseller Prompts Protests in Hong Kong



HONG KONG, Jan 4 (Reuters) - Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying said on Monday there was no indication so far outside agents were involved in the disappearance of five booksellers specializing 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 on Thursday. 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 on Sunday outside Beijing's representative office over Lee's disappearance.

See photos of people protesting the booksellers' disappearances:

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Hong Kong calls for answers after booksellers go missing in China
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Hong Kong says 'no indication' China involved in case of missing booksellers
A protester holds a photo of missing bookseller Lee Bo during a protest outside the Liaison of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers say they'll press the government for answers after a fifth employee of a publisher specializing in books critical of China's ruling communists went missing. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Protesters try to stick photos of missing booksellers during a protest outside the Liaison of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers say they'll press the government for answers after a fifth employee of a publisher specializing in books critical of China's ruling communists went missing. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Protesters hold photos of missing booksellers during a protest outside the Liaison of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers say they'll press the government for answers after a fifth employee of a publisher specializing in books critical of China's ruling communists went missing. The Chinese words on banner reads "Where is Lee Bo? Liaison of the Central People's Government of Hong Kong explain!"(AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Police officers stand guard after protesters stick photos of missing booksellers during a protest outside the Liaison of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers say they'll press the government for answers after a fifth employee of a publisher specializing in books critical of China's ruling communists went missing. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
A woman walks past a book featuring a photo of Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and former Politburo member and Chongqing city party leader Bo Xilai on the cover, at the entrance of the closed Causeway Bay Bookstore which is known for gossipy titles about Chinese political scandals and other sensitive issues that are popular with visiting tourists from the mainland in Hong Kong Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers say they'll press the government for answers after a fifth employee of a publisher specializing in books critical of China's ruling communists went missing. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
A man walks down the stairs of the closed Causeway Bay Bookstore which are known for gossipy titles about Chinese political scandals and other sensitive issues that are popular with visiting tourists from the mainland in Hong Kong Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, after the disappearance of Lee Bo, the fifth person associated with publisher Mighty Current to vanish in recent months. Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers say they'll press the government for answers after a fifth employee of a publisher specializing in books critical of China's ruling communists went missing. The Chinese words on the poster featuring a photo of Chinese President Xi Jinping reads "Xi Jinping collapse" (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Messages of support (L and R) are seen hanging on the door of a closed bookshop selling books about China's politics in Hong Kong on January 4, 2016. Hong Kong's leader said he was 'very concerned' over the disappearance of five of the city's booksellers known for publications critical of the Chinese government. The men are feared to have been detained by the Chinese authorities and their disappearances have sparked outrage from lawmakers and activists in Hong Kong. AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez / AFP / PHILIPPE LOPEZ (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
An man stands by a book (C) in a shop display cabinet of the Causeway Bay Books store featuring Chinese President Xi Jinping (L on book) and former Chinese political heavyweight Bo Xilai (R on book) on the cover in Hong Kong on January 4, 2016. Hong Kong's leader said he was 'very concerned' over the disappearance of five of the city's booksellers known for publications critical of the Chinese government. The men are feared to have been detained by the Chinese authorities and their disappearances have sparked outrage from lawmakers and activists in Hong Kong. AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez / AFP / PHILIPPE LOPEZ (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photograph taken on January 4, 2016 posters of books about China's politics including some featuring Chinese President Xi Jinping (C) are displayed in the staircase leading to a bookshop in Hong Kong. The wife of a missing Hong Kong bookseller feared detained by Chinese authorities has retracted her report to police on his disappearance in a move Amnesty said smacked of 'intimidation' tactics by China. AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez / AFP / PHILIPPE LOPEZ (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
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"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.

When asked about the disappearance of Lee, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily news briefing that she had no information to offer.

Lee's wife told media that her husband had phoned her on what appeared to be a Chinese phone number to say he was "assisting" in an investigation, despite having left his travel document at home.

Three of the missing men were last seen late last year in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

Another man, Gui Minhai, the author of tabloid-style exposes on Chinese leaders and the owner of Mighty Current, the publishing house that owns the Causeway Bay bookstore, was last seen publicly in the Thai seaside town of Pattaya.

Beijing's Liaison Office and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, a branch of China's highest administrative authority, the State Council, did not respond to requests for comment.

Lee Cheuk-yan, a pro-democracy lawmaker, said that while Hong Kong officials had sought information from Chinese law enforcement agencies over the case, they had yet to respond, showing a clear "failing" in the reporting and communication mechanism between both sides.

Senior Hong Kong officials appealed for more information from the public and said Hong Kong police had been deepening their probe, including reviewing CCTV footage and interviewing more people.

"We should give time to the police to conduct their investigation," said acting security secretary John Lee.

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