Police fire tear gas upon pro-democracy demonstrators near the Hong Kong government headquarters on September 28, 2014. Police fired tear gas as tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators brought parts of central Hong Kong to a standstill Sunday, in a dramatic escalation of protests that have gripped the semi-autonomous Chinese city for days. AFP PHOTO / AARON TAM        (Photo credit should read aaron tam/AFP/Getty Images)
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Story highlights

Britain says Lee Bo "involuntarily removed" from Hong Kong to mainland China

UK foreign secretary says his case constitutes serious breach of bilateral treaty

Man's disappearance has sparked concerns that Hong Kong's autonomy is under threat

Hong Kong CNN  — 

Britain says that a missing man associated with a controversial Hong Kong publishing house was taken to mainland China against his will.

In a half-yearly report to the UK Parliament on Hong Kong, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond called for the immediate return of Lee Bo, a British citizen, and said his case was a “serious breach” of a bilateral treaty between the United Kingdom and China.

“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,” the foreword to the report said.

Lee disappeared from Hong Kong in December, sparking mass protests amid allegations Chinese police, who are not permitted to act in the autonomous city, detained and spirited him across the border.

Responding to questions about Lee’s case, the Hong Kong government said in a statement, “Police have been seeking assistance from the mainland authorities and have received replies which the police have made public. Any suggestion that ‘Mr. Lee was involuntarily removed to the mainland’ remains speculative.”

China’s Foreign Ministry accused Britain of making “groundless accusations” about its former colony.

“The so-called “responsibility” that the British side claimed to have over Hong Kong does not exist. We ask the British side to mind its words and actions and stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs,” said Hong Lei, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry.

No escape? China ignores borders in its pursuit of critics

Police walk past missing person notices of Gui Minhai (L), one of five missing booksellers from the Mighty Current publishing house and Yau Wentian (R), a Hong Kong publisher who was last year jailed for 10 years while preparing to release a book critical of Chinese President Xi Jinping, posted on top of the sign of China's Liaison Office in Hong Kong on January 3, 2016. Five missing Hong Kong booksellers were rumoured to have been planning a book about Chinese President Xi Jinping's relationship with a former girlfriend, one of the city's lawmakers said on January 3, as protesters gathered to voice anger over the case.  AFP PHOTO / ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP / ANTHONY WALLACE        (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Freedoms being eroded?

Since his disappearance, letters purportedly written by Lee have been published in Hong Kong newspapers, and his wife, Choi Ka-ping, said she has met with him in a guesthouse on the mainland.

Hong Kong police said in January they were told Lee was in mainland China and requested to meet with him.

Under the “one country, two systems” policy agreed as part of Britain’s 1997 handover of its former colony to China, the 7 million residents of Hong Kong – defined as a “Special Administrative Region” of China – have greater, guaranteed civil liberties than those in the mainland.