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Missing Hong Kong bookseller to give up British passport, denies being kidnapped

Reuters | Tuesday, Mar 1, 2016

Lee Bo.

Photo: SCMP

HONG KONG - A Hong Kong bookseller and British passport holder who disappeared last year has said he will renounce his British citizenship, adding that he had not been kidnapped by Chinese authorities as suspected, but had sneaked into China illegally.

Lee Bo, a dual British and Hong Kong citizen, and four associates had gone missing over the past half-year, sparking fears that Chinese authorities had abducted some of the men and taken them back to China.

The disappearances provoked concern that China was using shadowy tactics to erode the "one country, two systems" formula under which Hong Kong has been governed since its return to China from British rule in 1997.

In an investigation, at least one of the men now faces criminal charges for selling and distributing books critical of China's Communist Party leaders that are banned in China.

In a 20-minute interview with China's Phoenix Television late on Monday night, Lee Bo gave the first detailed account of his disappearance from Hong Kong in late December, saying he had returned to China voluntarily.

"I have always felt that I'm a Hong Kong citizen, a Chinese citizen, and because people have used my British nationality to sensationalize and make the situation more complicated, that's why I'm deciding to give up my British nationality," said Lee, who appeared calm in the interview.

"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 added.

Since he was afraid of reprisals from those he was testifying against, he said, "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."

The British government said it would provide support to Lee, the BBC reported, following his latest comments.

There was no immediate response from a British consulate representative in Hong Kong.

Lee had been "involuntarily removed" to China, British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond said earlier.

Four of the other Hong Kong booksellers, including Gui Minhai, a Swedish national, confirmed on Chinese television on Sunday night that they had been detained for "illegal book trading" in mainland China.

Britain has not yet been granted consular access to Lee, despite formal requests to China, a representative of the British consulate in Hong Kong said on Monday.