Pro-democracy Civic Party protesters carry portraits of missing booksellers Lee Bo, left, and Gui Minhai outside the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong, Jan. 19, 2016.
Pro-democracy Civic Party protesters carry portraits of missing booksellers Lee Bo, left, and Gui Minhai outside the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong, Jan. 19, 2016.

A bookseller based in Hong Kong who went missing three months ago returned to his home Thursday and the Chinese government insists he was not kidnapped.

Lee Bo is a British citizen and one of five book publishers who have gone missing under mysterious circumstances in the past few months. He and the other four men all worked for the same publishing company, Mighty Current, which specializes in producing tabloid-style tales about political intrigue and love affairs within the Communist leadership.

The loosely sourced stories published by Mighty Current were banned in mainland China but were popular with mainland tourists in the semi-autonomous Hong Kong.

Lee’s disappearance in particular led to an outcry from Hong Kong citizens who accused the Chinese government of sending law enforcement agents to Hong Kong to abduct him, which is illegal under its constitution.

The Chinese government, as well as Lee, denied the claims that he was abducted, instead insisting that Lee smuggled himself into mainland China. According to a government statement, Lee returned to Hong Kong Thursday and met with officers as part of an investigation into his disappearance.

The statement claimed that Lee had traveled to the mainland to assist in the investigation into the disappearance of one of his fellow book publishers, Gui Minhai. According to the statement, Lee said he was safe and free while travelling in China.

Renouncing book business

Lee had appeared on Chinese television in late February to assure watchers he had gone to the mainland on his own accord.

At the time, though, British authorities said they believed Lee was “involuntarily removed to the mainland.”

Upon returning to Hong Kong Thursday, Lee told Phoenix TV, a private broadcaster based in the city, he left for mainland China using “normal means” because he needed to help in the investigation. He said he may need to return several times to assist in the future.

Lee also told reporters at the border that he will no longer publish or sell books that are “sheer fabrication.”

He added, "Press and speech freedoms do not mean you can make things up. There are still people in Hong Kong who are doing that, and I hope they will no longer do that."

Critics in China say they aren’t buying his story.

Albert Ho, a pro-democracy politician in Hong Kong told France's news agency that no one really believes Lee’s story, and that people generally think he was forced to go back to China.

“The Lee Bo incident has really crushed the confidence of Hong Kong people in respect of ‘One Country, Two Systems,'” he said, regarding the agreement between the two technically-separate nations.

Lee’s four colleagues are all facing criminal investigations on the mainland.

Earlier this year, Gui said on Chinese state television that he returned to the mainland to voluntarily surrender himself after fleeing a suspended sentence 12 years ago for a fatal drunken driving case. About a month later, he was on state media again, this time to say he illegally shipped books into China from Hong Kong.

Lee’s three other colleagues, Cheung Chi-ping, Lui Por and Lam Wing-kee, blamed the book trade on Gui, but are still facing charges.