One of five missing Hong Kong booksellers has reappeared in the former British colony to ask police to drop his missing person status, but declined to detail exactly how he left the city and ended up in mainland China in the first place.
Lee Bo "did not provide thorough information about his last departure," Hong Kong police said in a statement on their official website after Lee met with police and immigration officials on Thursday.
It said Lee, who reappeared in mainland China to "assist Chinese police with an investigation" without showing up on immigration department computers, could still face further investigation over the manner in which he left Hong Kong.
Lee has since returned to mainland China after spending less than 24 hours in Hong Kong, local media reports said.
Causeway Bay Books store manager and British passport-holder Lee, 65, went missing from his workplace in Hong Kong on Dec. 30, while four of his associates, publisher Gui Minhai, general manager Lui Bo (also spelled Lui Por), and colleagues Cheung Chi-ping and Lam Wing-kei have all been detained under opaque circumstances.
The U.K. government said in an official report that Lee had been "involuntarily removed" from the city, which has maintained a separate law enforcement jurisdiction and an internal immigration border since returning to Chinese rule in 1997.
Earlier this month, Cheung, business manager of Causeway Bay Books, entered Hong Kong on March 6, two days after his colleague Lui Bo, the bookstore’s general manager, but they also stayed only a few hours in the city before going back to China.
Reason to fear
Cai Yongmei, editor of the cutting-edge Hong Kong magazine Outlook, said Lee's reappearance hasn't allayed fears that he was detained by mainland Chinese law enforcement in Hong Kong.
"Mainland police have no jurisdiction in Hong Kong, and the removal of Lee Bo to mainland China by Chinese law enforcement represents a huge threat to and a breach of Hong Kong's autonomy," Cai said.
"What's more, the Hong Kong government is just going along with the mainland authorities," she said, adding that the booksellers' detentions have struck a huge blow to freedom of expression in the formerly freewheeling city.
According to League of Social Democrats vice-chairman Raphael Wong, nobody will believe that Lee wasn't illegally abducted by Chinese police.
"If anyone does believe it, then they will be people who already support Beijing," Wong said. "Nobody in the pan-democratic camp will believe it because we know better than that."
Wong said televised "confessions" and claims by the Causeway Bay booksellers that there was nothing untoward about their sudden departure from their lives were nonsense.
"None of it explains why Lee Bo's travel pass is still in Hong Kong and why he suddenly had to go to China to help with an investigation," he said.
According to the Hong Kong Police, Lee repeated his claim that he is helping mainland police with their investigation into Causeway Bay books owner Gui Minhai, who disappeared, despite holding a Swedish passport, from his holiday home in Thailand.
"Lee ... told police that ... he, with the assistance of his friends, returned to the mainland by his own means voluntarily and it was not an abduction," the police statement said.
"He stated that he was free and safe while on the mainland. He restated his request for the cancellation of his missing person case and he ... refused to disclose other details," it said.
Other questions unanswered
Calls to Lee Bo's phone resulted in a switched-off message on Thursday, while calls to his wife Sophie Choi's phone rang unanswered.
Lee's U.K.-based daughter, who gave only the name Angela, said she hadn't been in touch with her father and declined to comment.
Lee's brief reappearance has left many other questions unanswered, according to Hong Kong activist Richard Choi of the Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China.
"Why didn't he reveal exactly how he crossed the border when he came back to Hong Kong?" Choi said. "And why, when he didn't dare to visit the mainland after the detention of Gui Minhai, did he suddenly decide to do just that?"
"I think that the likelihood he was operating of his own free will is very slim."
Former Hong Kong lawmaker and League of Social Democrats member Tsang Kin-shing said the case of the missing booksellers shows the direction the city is heading under chief executive Leung Chun-ying.
"He is deliberately causing social divisions so as to destabilize Hong Kong to make people lose all hope for the future," Tsang told RFA.
"Young people no longer wish to be under Chinese rule, and so we are increasingly seeing ideas like Hong Kong independence expressed," he said.
Reported by Chan Siu-po for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin and Gao Shan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.