The UK has called the apparent abduction of a Hong Kong bookseller a “serious breach” of the treaty on the city’s return to China, in its strongest comments on the matter.
It has said Lee Bo, a British citizen, was “involuntarily removed… without any due process” under Hong Kong law.
Lee is among five booksellers who have disappeared in recent months.
In the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, China promised to safeguard Hong Kong’s freedoms.
The UK had earlier expressed concern about reports on the disappearance of Mr Lee and the other booksellers associated with Mighty Current, a publishing house specialising in books critical of senior Chinese leaders, and Causeway Bay Books which sells the titles.
But in his twice-yearly report on Hong Kong affairs, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said: “The full facts of the case remain unclear, but our current information indicates that Mr Lee was involuntarily removed to the mainland without any due process under Hong Kong [Special Administrative Region] law.”
A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office in Hong Kong has confirmed to the BBC that it is the first time a “serious breach” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration has been noted
Mighty Current publishing house disappearances
1. Lui Bo, General Manager, goes missing in Shenzhen, 15 October
2. Cheung Jiping, business manager, 32, goes missing in Dongguan, 15 October
3. Gui Minhai, co-owner, 51, goes missing in Thailand, 17 October
4. Lam Wingkei, manager, 60, last seen in Hong Kong, 23 October
5. Lee Bo, shareholder, 65, goes missing in Hong Kong, 30 December
He added that the case not only breached the joint declaration but also “undermined” the “one country, two systems” principle which protects residents in the Hong Kong legal system.
Mr Hammond has previously said that any charges against Mr Lee should be dealt with in Hong Kong, not mainland China.
The report, which also assessed Hong Kong’s media, academic and legal progress, also said some of the city’s guaranteed rights and freedoms “have come under unprecedented pressure” and urged authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing to take steps in maintaining confidence in the system.
The disappearance of the booksellers have been a cause of major concern in Hong Kong where many believe they were taken to the mainland to face punishment.
Mr Lee later allegedly sent a letter to his family saying he had gone to the mainland voluntarily to attend to certain matters, but did not elaborate.
Another missing bookseller, Gui Minhai, appeared on Chinese state television saying he had given himself up to authorities for an old drink-driving conviction.