The missing Hong Kong bookseller who sold gossipy books about the Chinese leadership could face more than 10 years behind bars for allegedly “blackmailing” the subjects of the books his store published, according to an online news report.
The news of Lee Po’s case came on Tuesday as UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein weighed in and expressed concern over the mysterious disappearance of Lee and his four bookstore colleagues.
The UN high commissioner for human rights, who met Chinese officials yesterday in Geneva, urged Beijing "to ensure a fair and transparent procedure for these cases" and visits by family members and lawyers.This followed London’s criticism of Beijing’s alleged secretive abduction of Lee – who is a British passport holder – in its bi-annual report on Hong Kong last week, saying it was a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
According to the bowenpress.com report, Lee was accused of demanding money from "big names" in the mainland political and business circles in return for not publishing the books about them.
The report did not mention who had been "blackmailed" or how much money had been asked, but quoted sources claiming that such practice was common in the publishing circle in Hong Kong but such cases were rarely reported to police.
"[Lee Po’s case] has been made so big and the relevant mainland authorities are left holding the bag. It is almost impossible for Lee Po to get away easily," said an unnamed source quoted by bowenpress. But the online news outlet said the accusations against Lee could not be independently confirmed.
Depending on the seriousness of the case, Lee could face a jail sentence as light as below three years, or for at least 10 years, according to the report.
In Hong Kong, Lee’s wife and the government were not saying much.
Mrs Lee yesterday said she did not like to speak about the case. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying also said: "There is no further information to provide. We were only aware of the [accusations against Lee] after reading the [bowenpress.com] report."
A friend of Lee’s, Jin Zhong, chief editor of Open Magazine, said: "This is one of the many stories the mainland authorities try to make up about what has happened to Lee and his associates."
Lee, one of the shareholders of Causeway Bay Books went missing on December 30 in Hong Kong, following the mysterious disappearance of four other staff members from his bookstore during the past few months. But he surfaced on the mainland weeks later without his travel documents.
One of his colleagues, Gui Minhai, a Swedish national who vanished from Thailand last October, appeared on Chinese state television last month claiming he had returned to China voluntarily to take responsibility for a car accident some 13 years earlier in which a young woman was killed.
The other three men, Lui Por, Cheung Chi-ping, and Lam Wing-kee, were recently said to be under investigation on the mainland in connection with a case relating to Gui and other illegal activities on the mainland.
A spokesman for the Guangdong provincial police department declined to comment on the bowenpress.com report.
Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said: "I can’t rule out the truthfulness of the [bownepress.com] news, as I have heard of cases of printed matter being used for extortion purposes.
"But the key to the issue is not about these accounts ... We should focus on why and how Lee and his associates at Causeway Bay Books disappeared, and should not get sidetracked by any other issues."
In previous letters reportedly written by Lee to his wife, he said he had returned to the mainland voluntarily to assist in an investigation. He also urged others not to make a fuss over the incident and to respect his privacy and that of his family.
Hong Kong police have been trying to meet him. The request was reportedly rejected by Lee.