Act Now! Send a letter to the Hong Kong government to urge the mainland authorities to
immediately and unconditionally release the booksellers
4 March 2016
Dear Hon. Leung Chun-ying,
Amnesty International is a global human rights movement with more than seven million members, activists and supporters worldwide who work to ensure that human rights are enjoyed by all.
I am writing to you, on behalf of Amnesty International Hong Kong, urging you to take action regarding the five Hong Kong booksellers who appear to be held in detention in mainland China, not in accordance with international law and standards. This is a matter worthy of your considerations, since at least one of the booksellers, Lee Po, went missing from Hong Kong.
The four booksellers originally went missing one by one in October 2015. Subsequently, Lee Po went missing in Hong Kong on 30 December 2015. On the face of it, Lee Po repeatedly stated, in written messages and when meeting a Hong Kong police officer and an Immigration Department officer at an undisclosed location in mainland China, and on TV, that he returned to mainland China “by his own means voluntarily” in order “to assist mainland authorities in an investigation”. The Secretary for Security TK Lai said on 1 March 2016 that there was no evidence that a cross-border law enforcement action – which would have breached the “one country, two systems principle”—took place. Nonetheless, he said that the police and the Immigration Department will continue to investigate how Lee left Hong Kong by his own means.
Lee Po’s inability to return to Hong Kong and the apparent deprivation of his liberty for over two months has aroused grave concern in Hong Kong and internationally regarding whether his statements were given under duress and whether he was taken away by the mainland authorities, or people connected with the mainland authorities. If law enforcement officers of mainland China took him away from Hong Kong, it is not just an infringement of a Hong Kong citizen’s right to liberty and security, but a show of contempt for due process, Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and the rule of law. The Hong Kong government has the responsibility to clarify whether such breaches took place, and hold those responsible to account.
Another bookseller, Gui Minhai, went missing in a similar manner in Thailand on 17 October 2015. For the other three booksellers who are Hong Kong residents, Lui Por, Cheung Chi-ping and Lam Wing-kee, the Guangdong Provincial government informed Hong Kong police on 4 February 2016, months after their taken away in October 2015, that they were suspected to be involved in a case relating to Gui and illegal activities in mainland China, and were under “compulsory criminal measures”. On 29 February 2016 they appeared on Phoenix TV, which reported that they were under “compulsory criminal measures” on the charge of ‘illegal business operations’ and currently under investigation. On 2 March 2016, the Guangdong Provincial Public Security Departments informed the Hong Kong government that the three would be released on bail pending investigation in the coming days. However, many crucial questions have still not been addressed, such as their precise whereabouts, and whether their detentions were carried out in accordance with Chinese law.
We appreciated that the Hong Kong Police have commenced an investigation in Hong Kong and sought assistance from police cooperation units in mainland China.
However, when the public expressed deep concerns about the possibility that the five Hong Kong booksellers were abducted from Thailand, Hong Kong, and mainland China, we wish you, the Chief Executive had urged the government in mainland China to disclose their whereabouts, instead of calling on the missing booksellers to come forward to the Hong Kong government and provide information.
When the mainland authorities, in response to the Hong Kong Police’s repeated request for information, provided only piecemeal information that the public finds incomplete and unconvincing, we would have preferred that you, as the head of the Hong Kong government, had asked the government in mainland China to give a full explanation.
While the five Hong Kong booksellers have had their liberty restricted in mainland China, with no guarantee to the basic rights of access to family and lawyers, you could have raised strongly concerns regarding the threat to due process, Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and the rule of law.
We, Amnesty International Hong Kong, hope that you and the Hong Kong government could show your determination and strength to fulfill your responsibility to protect the rights of everyone in Hong Kong to liberty and security, provided for under Article 9(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the Bill of Rights Ordinance, that: “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.”
The Mighty Current Media and the Causeway Bay Bookstore that the five booksellers are linked to are known for their books on Chinese leaders and political scandals, which are banned in mainland China but are popular with mainland Chinese tourists visiting Hong Kong. Amnesty International Hong Kong is concerned that the disappearance and detention of the five booksellers, as well as the potential chilling effect of the case, is an attack to Hong Kong’s freedom of expression provided under Article 19 of the ICCPR, and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, that: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
Amnesty International Hong Kong 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, unless they are formally charged with an internationally recognizable criminal offence and tried in full compliance with international legal standards of fair trial, and pending their release, ensure without delay that the five booksellers have regular and unrestricted access to families and lawyers of their own choosing, are only held in recognized places of detention, and have an effective opportunity to challenge the legality of their detention;
- request the Chinese authorities to give a full and proper explanation of the incidents;
- restate the determination to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of everyone in Hong Kong to freedom of expression and other human rights;
- publicly condemn any contempt for due process, Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and the rule of law if any authorities from mainland China were responsible for taking away the booksellers from Hong Kong; and hold those responsible to account, and ensure that preventive measures are put in place to protect everybody’s liberty and security in Hong Kong.
Amnesty International Hong Kong