LCQ5: Handling of cases of Hong Kong people reported missing

     Following is a question by the Hon Emily Lau and a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, in the Legislative Council today (January 20):


     It has been reported that five Hong Kong people who are shareholders or employees of the Causeway Bay Books went missing one after another during the period from mid-October last year to the thirtieth of last month.  The first person, the subsequent three and the last one were last seen in Thailand, the Mainland and Hong Kong respectively before they went missing.  Moreover, it has been reported that the wife of Mr Lee Bo, the last missing person, received two calls from Mr Lee to assure her of his safety and the displayed caller number was a Shenzhen phone number.  Subsequently, an associate of the bookstore also received a handwritten fax purportedly issued by Mr Lee, saying that "I have returned to the Mainland using my own way to work with the authorities concerned in an investigation".  On the sixth of this month, the editorial of the Global Times, a state-run newspaper of the Mainland, stated that "powerful agencies across the world generally have their own ways to circumvent the law and make a person under investigation to work with them, so that they can proceed with their work without crossing the bottom line of the system".  The string of incidents of people reported missing have aroused grave concern among people from various sectors of society.  In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:

(1) of the actions (to be set out in detail) taken by the authorities since the first reported missing incident happened three-odd months ago to locate the whereabouts of those five missing persons and ensure their personal safety;

(2) given that the mainland public security authorities and the Hong Kong Police (HKP) have established a reciprocal notification mechanism regarding the detainment, arrest or unnatural deaths of their residents in the territory of the other party, whether HKP have taken action under that mechanism in respect of the aforesaid missing cases; if HKP have, of the details, and whether, apart from the information announced by the public security authorities and official media on the mainland, HKP have received any other information on the five missing persons as notified by the mainland public security authorities; if HKP have received such information, of the details; and

(3) whether they have verified if the five missing persons were taken to the Mainland by a powerful agency using means circumventing the law to make these persons work with it in an investigation, as mentioned by the aforesaid editorial of the Global Times; if they have verified and the result is in the affirmative, whether they have assessed if the action taken by the agency has contravened the principle of "one country, two systems" and Article 28 of the Basic Law, which stipulates that "[n]o Hong Kong resident shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful arrest, detention or imprisonment.  Arbitrary or unlawful ... deprivation or restriction of the freedom of the person shall be prohibited"?


Acting President,

     My reply to the Hon Emily Lau's question is as follows:

(1) The HKSAR Government attaches great importance to the cases of missing persons associated with a bookstore in Causeway Bay and fully understands the concerns of the community.

     Amongst the five persons who are suspected to be missing, four are Hong Kong residents.  The Police have received reports at different times that these four persons are missing.  The family of one of the missing persons has also sought assistance from the Immigration Department, and the Immigration Department has already provided practicable assistance according to the wishes of his family.  As regards the other missing person, he is not a Hong Kong resident and not a holder of a Hong Kong Identity Card.  The Police have also not received any report that this person is missing.

     With regard to the above-mentioned missing person cases, the Police have already commenced proactive and comprehensive investigation in an attempt to understand the circumstances, background and the course of the event of the missing persons.  The Police are also proactively gathering evidence and looking for clues from various sources, including closed-circuit television footage etc.  The Police's investigation also covers the locations where the missing persons might have been to according to the informants.  Currently, the relevant cases have been consolidated and are being handled by the Regional Missing Person Unit of Hong Kong Island of the Police, with the support of the Regional Crime Unit of Hong Kong Island.  During the course of investigation, the Police have been maintaining contact with the families of the four missing persons who are Hong Kong residents.  The Police have also informed the families of the investigation progress and answered their queries.  At the same time, the Police have set up a 24-hour hotline 6764 4385 to facilitate provision of information related to the cases by members of the public.  I would like to appeal to anyone who has any information which might assist the Police in following up the cases to contact the Police as soon as possible.

     During the course of investigation, the Police have been seeking assistance from relevant Mainland police co-operation units.  In the evening of January 18, the Police received a reply letter concerning one of the missing persons, Lee Po, from the Interpol Guangdong Liaison Office of the Guangdong Provincial Public Security Department, stating that "having understood that Lee Po is in the Mainland".  Also enclosed in the reply is a letter from him addressing to the relevant government department of the HKSAR Government.  The content of this letter is similar to the one which the media reported that he has written to his wife on January 17.  The Police have contacted Mrs Lee, who confirmed that it was Lee Po's handwriting in the letter.  The Police have already written to the Interpol Guangdong Liaison Office of the Guangdong Provincial Public Security Department on January 18, requesting to meet with Lee Po and further understand the situation of the incident.

     The HKSAR Government is concerned about the rights and personal safety of Hong Kong residents in or outside of Hong Kong.  The Police will continue to spare no effort in the investigation.  However, the Police could not disclose all the case details so as not to affect the investigation.

(2) Since January 1, 2001, the HKSAR Government has, by way of an administrative arrangement and on the basis of mutual respect for the relevant laws of both sides, put in place a reciprocal notification mechanism with the Mainland in respect of cases involving unnatural deaths and imposition of criminal compulsory measures on residents from the other side, so that notification could be made as soon as practicable.  Upon receipt of notification from the Mainland authorities, the HKSAR Government will inform the family members of the persons concerned as soon as possible so that the latter can consider whether to engage a lawyer or to seek other assistance through the HKSAR Government.  In this respect, the Mainland public security authorities and other relevant authorities have been offering assistance and co-operation, and the reciprocal notification mechanism has also been serving its purpose.  Since the operation of the mechanism in 2001 to the end of December 2015, over 12 000 notifications involving more than 9 400 Hong Kong residents were made by the Mainland authorities to the HKSAR side.

     In addition, the Hong Kong Police have been maintaining a police co-operation mechanism with relevant Mainland counterparts. Under the mechanism, if one party requires the assistance of the other party to conduct investigation, the requested party may gather information relevant to the case through legal means and provide such information to the requesting party.  When the requesting party makes request for assistance, it must give prior notification to the requested party and explain clearly the nature of the case and the scope of the assistance sought for the investigation.  It will then be for the law enforcement officers of the requested party to undertake the investigation work in accordance with the law.  When conducting such co-operation, any law enforcement actions must only be taken by the local law enforcement agencies in accordance with the law.  Under no circumstances can police officers of either side take enforcement actions in the territory of the other jurisdiction.

     Under the above mechanisms, the two sides could communicate with regard to various cases or matters, and both sides have received assistance from the other side as well as useful information.  In the past, a number of cases have registered progress or have even been solved through these mechanisms.

     As I mentioned earlier, in respect of the missing person cases, the Hong Kong Police have received a reply from the Interpol Guangdong Liaison Office of the Guangdong Provincial Public Security Department.  The Police will continue to follow up the cases with the Mainland authorities and request for information on other relevant missing persons.

(3) Since Hong Kong's return to China, the HKSAR Government has all along been dealing with matters relating to the HKSAR strictly in accordance with the principle of "one country, two systems" and the Basic Law.

     The Basic Law only authorises Hong Kong law enforcement agencies to enforce laws.  Law enforcement agencies outside of Hong Kong, including law enforcement agencies of the Mainland and overseas, do not have the authority to enforce laws in Hong Kong.  If law enforcement officers of non-Hong Kong jurisdictions take law enforcement actions in Hong Kong, this will contravene Hong Kong laws and is unacceptable.  Except properly permitted under the laws, we shall not tolerate any unauthorised law enforcement action by anyone or any organisation.  For any suspected case of infringement, we will conduct full and thorough investigation.

     I will not comment on reports or comments by individual media, irrespective of whether they are local or non-local media.  Since the Police's investigation of the cases is still ongoing, in the absence of a full grasp of the facts, it is not appropriate for me to make any speculation.

     Article 28 of the Basic Law states that the freedom of the person of Hong Kong residents shall be inviolable.  No Hong Kong resident shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful arrest, detention or imprisonment.  Arbitrary or unlawful search of the body of any resident or deprivation or restriction of the freedom of the person shall be prohibited.  The HKSAR Government will, as always, continue to resolutely safeguard the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents in accordance with law.

     Thank you, acting President.

Ends/Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:39