HONG KONG (AP) — A book editor whose disappearance nearly three months ago rattled civil liberties advocates in Hong Kong and sparked international concern returned home from the Chinese mainland Thursday, police said.
Lee Bo met with Hong Kong immigration and police officers as part of an investigation upon his return but "did not provide thorough information" about his undocumented departure from Hong Kong, a police statement said.
He told them he went to the mainland voluntarily "by his own means" to assist in an investigation against a colleague and had not been abducted, as many in Hong Kong had suspected. The statement said Lee told officers he had been safe and free while on the mainland, and needed no assistance from Hong Kong police. He refused to disclose any other details.
The comments are consistent with Lee's earlier remarks on television and in notes to his wife, when he asked that the missing-person investigation into his Dec. 30 disappearance be dropped.
However, supporters and rights activists suspect Lee was under duress when he made the statements. The British government said last month that Lee, a British passport holder, was "involuntarily removed" to the mainland in a major breach of the bilateral treaty that let Beijing take control of the city from Britain in 1997.
The case has highlighted fears Beijing is reneging on the "one country, two systems" framework it promised to keep in place until 2047, which allows Hong Kong to keep much autonomy as well as civil liberties unseen on the mainland such as free speech.
Lee was associated with Mighty Current, a small publishing house that churned out gossipy, hastily written and thinly sourced titles about China's Communist leadership that were banned on the mainland and popular with mainland visitors to Hong Kong.
He promised he would no longer sell the kinds of books Mighty Current used to market, according to a Chinese media report, leaving the company's future in doubt.
"I will not publish or sell books that are sheer fabrication," Lee told Chinese reporters after he crossed the border back into Hong Kong, according to The Paper, a state-funded news site. "Press and speech freedoms do not mean you can make things up. There are still people in Hong Kong who are doing that and I hope they will no longer do that."
Mighty Current's Swedish-Chinese publisher Gui Minhai disappeared from his apartment in Thailand in October amid concerns he had been taken to China against his will. Three other colleagues disappeared around the same time while in mainland China.
Gui appeared on Chinese state television in January, saying he had returned to China voluntarily to surrender for fleeing his suspended sentence in a 12-year-old fatal drunken driving case.
A month later, Chinese state media said Gui had admitted he violated Chinese laws by shipping banned books to the Chinese mainland from Hong Kong.
Lee's three other colleagues are free on bail in the mainland, but Gui appears to be still detained without charge. Their Causeway Bay Bookstore remains shuttered.
Associated Press writer Didi Tang in Beijing contributed to this report.