Three of the five missing booksellers from Hong Kong, who have been held in China, will soon be freed on bail while Chinese officials continue their investigation, Hong Kong’s police said late Wednesday, according to reports.
All the booksellers were from Mighty Current publishing house, and its retail outlet, Causeway Bay Bookshop in Hong Kong — the publishing company specialized in books on sensitive Chinese political topics, which were banned in the mainland. And so, their disappearance last year sparked fears that Beijing was clamping down on Hong Kong's freedom of press.
Hong Kong officials said in a statement, cited by the Associated Press (AP), that they were informed of the bail for the three men by China's public security department in the neighboring Guangdong province. Mainland officials confirmed that Lui Por, Cheung Chi-ping and Lam Wing-kee will be “released on bail pending investigation in the coming few days,” the AP reported. The other two men who had been missing are Swedish national Gui Minhai and British citizen Lee Bo. Their detention in China has led to calls from international community for their immediate release.
It was not clear if the released men would be sent back to Hong Kong or would remain in China. Hong Kong police officials said, according to Agence France-Presse, that their families have been informed about their bail.
The three men, who went missing in October, were first seen Sunday in a televised address, where they confessed to illegally smuggling books critical of China, to the mainland. The men admitted that they had sold over 4,000 books despite knowing that the Chinese government had not approved of it.
Lui said he sold the books under the influence of Gui, who he claimed was “dragging me down the path of crime.” Lui also said that Gui’s books were “fabricated” and had “brought a bad influence.”
Gui went missing from Pattaya, Thailand, in October and made a tearful appearance in January on Chinese media. He said he had surrendered to Chinese authorities for violating a probation that stemmed from a drunken driving incident 12 years ago. He also said in the address that he had avoided security checks for the books by altering and obscuring their covers.
A report by Shanghai-based website thepaper.cn had said after the Sunday address that Gui and the three men could be allowed to return home because of their “good attitude.”
Lee, the only one not seen in Sunday’s address, had been missing since December and residents fear that Chinese officials captured him from Hong Kong. If so, it would constitute a violation of the “one country, two systems” principle, which was implemented after Beijing took control of Hong Kong from the U.K. in 1997.
However, Lee appeared in a separate address on Monday and said that he had not been kidnapped but sneaked into China illegally so he could assist the Chinese authorities with the investigation on his colleagues. He also said that he wants to give up his British citizenship.
“Why have I acted so mysteriously? It's because I've had to assist with a mainland Chinese investigation and it required testifying against some people,” Lee said, adding: “I used an illegal means to sneak there and I didn't use my [Chinese] home return permit.”
“I am very safe and free in China. My relations with law enforcement officers are very good. They treat me very well. ... Many have sensationalized my British citizenship and have complicated the situation, so I have decided to give up my British citizenship,” Lee said.