'Intimidation' fears as wife of missing Hong Kong bookseller retracts

'Intimidation' fears as wife of missing Hong Kong bookseller retracts

Hong Kong - The wife of a missing Hong Kong bookseller feared detained by Chinese authorities has retracted her report to police on his disappearance in a move Amnesty said smacked of "intimidation" tactics by China.

It comes after a letter purportedly faxed to a colleague by the missing bookseller, Lee Bo, said he was well and had reached the mainland using his own means.

Lee, 65, is one of five missing men who all worked for Hong Kong-based publishing house Mighty Current, known for books critical of China.

The disappearances have sparked fury from lawmakers and activists, adding to growing unease that freedoms in the semi-autonomous city are being eroded.

Under its mini-constitution, Hong Kong enjoys freedom of speech and Chinese law enforcers have no right to operate in the city.

In a statement to AFP Tuesday, police said: "The informant told police to cancel the case report yesterday (Monday)," referring to Lee's wife, Sophie Choi, who reported him missing after he failed to turn up at home for dinner last week.

The statement said police continue to investigate the case.

Amnesty said it was common for Chinese authorities to put pressure on those close to the detainees.

"One wonders whether the same sort of intimidation is being used against associates and friends (of the publishers)," said Amnesty International's China researcher William Nee.

Choi was not answering her phone Tuesday.

Her withdrawal came after Lee contacted a colleague, in a faxed letter published by Taiwan's Central News Agency.

"Because I had to handle an urgent matter, and can't let outsiders know, I went to the mainland in my own way," Lee said in the handwritten message, adding "all is normal".

He said he was "assisting an investigation" but did not elaborate.

Lee's wife has previously said he had called her from a number in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen after he had gone missing.

Nee said the letter "defies belief" as Hong Kong has stringent border-crossing systems.

Human Rights Watch questioned how Lee could have crossed the border with no trace.

"The Hong Kong government needs to handle this case with transparency," said China researcher Maya Wang.

Police are also investigating the disappearances of three other missing employees who were Hong Kong residents.

The fifth is a Swedish national, with embassies in Beijing and Bangkok investigating his case.

In a regular briefing Tuesday, China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, said: "I am not aware of the situation," when asked about the missing booksellers.

Democratic legislator Albert Ho said over the weekend he believed the men had beenĀ kidnapped by Chinese security officers.

Lawmaker James To said Tuesday it was "more likely" that hired thugs had been used so that mainland authorities could evade responsibility.

"It's a very complicated web of operatives," he told AFP.

Hong Kong's leader Leung Chun-ying said Monday it would be "unacceptable" if mainland law enforcers were operating in Hong Kong.

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