A Hong Kong bookseller who mysteriously went missing after selling publications critical of the Chinese leadership has appeared on Chinese state TV, tearfully confessing to fleeing justice after killing a student in a hit-and-run incident.
Swedish national Gui Minhai is one of five booksellers who have vanished in recent months, with supporters fearing they had been kidnapped by Chinese authorities after selling publications banned on the Chinese mainland.
Gui, who has not been seen since November, appeared China's CCTV channel, and said that he had been evading capture after being found guilty of killing a 20-year-old student in Zhejiang province on mainland China in 2004.
"I was afraid of going to jail, and there was no way I could develop on the mainland, so I thought I better run," Gui said, sobbing. "I have to shoulder my own liability, and I'm willing to be punished."
The disappearances have led to fears of a crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong agreed by Beijing as part of its handover by Britain in 1998. Among those missing is UK citizen Lee Bo, a colleague of Gui at the Mighty Current publishing company, which sold banned books popular with Chinese visitors to Hong Kong.
The Swedish government has announced it is taking a "serious view" of Gui's disappearance, and launched a investigation both in China and in Thailand, where Gui was last seen. In the interview, Gui asked Swedish authorities not to proceed with the investigation.
"Even though I am a Swedish national, I truly feel that I am still Chinese and my roots are still in China. So I hope that the Swedish side would respect my personal choice, rights and privacy and let me solve my own problems," he said.
In an interview before he went missing himself, Lee said that his four colleagues may have been detained by mainland authorities in connection with a book Gui was preparing to publish allegedly about the private life of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"I suspect all of them were detained. All four went missing at the same time," he said, and claimed he felt safe in Hong Kong, where Chinese law enforcement has no jurisdiction. Weeks later he vanished after last being seen at the publishing company's warehouse.
Lee's wife said that he had been in contact, and told her over the phone that he had travelled to the mainland of his own volition. She subsequently withdrew her missing persons complaint to police. Human rights campaigners said that pressure is often placed on the families of political prisoners by authorities to take cases form the media spotlight.
UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said that he had asked Chinese authorities for information on Lee's whereabouts on a visit to Beijing earlier in January.