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Recently, a number of newspapers reported that another co-owner of Causeway Bay Books has gone missing. Causeway Bay Books is known for publishing and selling books banned in Mainland China. Within the past three months, five of its co-owners or managers have successively gone missing. What differs from previous incidents in which persons have gone missing is that in this case, contact with Mr. Lee Bo was lost within, and not outside Hong Kong.
The reports further indicated that Mr. Lee was taken away by individuals of unknown identities after working in a godown facility in Chai Wan. Employees of the bookstore indicated that on the evening of Mr. Lee’s disappearance, they received two calls from Mr. Lee indicating that he was “safe”, and in both cases the caller identification was a Mainland China number. Therefore, there is reason to believe that Mr. Lee was no longer in Hong Kong, and was in Mainland China. Subsequently, the North Point Police Station confirmed that a report was made by a Ms. Choi that she had lost contact with her husband Mr. Lee. The report was characterised as a “missing report” case, and was assigned to the Hong Kong Island Regional Missing Persons Unit for investigation. Thereafter, when police officers went to Mr. Lee’s residence to investigate, they discovered that Mr. Lee’s Home Return Permit was still at his residence in Hong Kong, and moreover there was no immigration record of Mr. Lee leaving Hong Kong.
If the above were true, it would undoubtedly be yet again another violation of the Basic Law.
Firstly, Article 27 of the Basic Law makes it clear that Hong Kong residents’ freedom of the press is guaranteed. Arresting owners and employees of Causeway Bay Books for the books it publishes is undoubtedly a violation of their rights under the Basic Law.
Further, Article 14 of the Basic Law provides that “[t]he Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be responsible for the maintenance of public order in the Region”;
Article 18 of the Basic Law provides that “[n]ational laws shall not be applied in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region except for those listed in Annex III to this Law. The laws listed therein shall be applied locally by way of promulgation or legislation by the Region”; and
Article 22 of the Basic Law provides that “[n]o department of the Central People’s Government and no province, autonomous region, or municipality directly under the Central Government may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region administers on its own in accordance with this Law”.
The HKSAR Government has the power to enforce Hong Kong laws within Hong Kong. PRC laws (save for national laws contained in Annex III of the Basic Law) shall not be applied in Hong Kong and China’s enforcement agencies shall not enforce PRC laws within the territory of Hong Kong. The Lee Bo incident sparked concerns that China did not strictly comply with the Basic Law. The HKSAR Government must investigate into this matter so as to prevent any further erosion to the rule of law in Hong Kong.
In addition, we are concerned that this incident might have breached the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a convention adopted by both China and Hong Kong. In particular, Article 9 of the Covenant states the following:
“1. 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.
2. Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.
3. Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgement.
4. Anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful.”
The Progressive Lawyers Group urges the HKSAR Government, the Hong Kong Police Force and the Immigration Department to immediately investigate this matter so as to safeguard Hong Kong’s “one country two systems” and to protect the rights and safety of Mr. Lee Bo and four associates of Causeway Bay Books who went missing.
Progressive Lawyers Group
6 January 2016
Originally published in Stand News on 9 January 2016