Late last year five staff from a Hong Kong publisher and bookstore, which specializes in tabloid style books that are highly unflattering of China’s communist leaders, went missing, and fingers are being pointed at Beijing.
The last member of the Mighty Current publishing house staff to vanish was bookstore manager, Lee Bo, who was last seen in Hong Kong on December 30.
On the day he vanished, Lee called his wife twice from neighboring Shenzhen, according to Hong Kong Free Post. The 65-year-old said that he would not be home in the near future, and talked about assisting with some investigations. He also spoke in Mandarin, not his native Cantonese. His wife said she heard someone reminding him to say that he would get “lenient” treatment if he cooperated.
More recently, Lee’s wife received a fax, allegedly from her husband, saying much the same again, but adding that he made his own way to the mainland.
There’s little wonder then that many Hong Kongers believe that Lee and his colleagues have been abducted by Chinese security, and are being held somewhere in mainland China.
Watch this report by CNN on the disappearances:
Lee is also a British citizen, and the publications about China’s communist leaders that he sold at Causeway Bay Books were popular with mainlanders visiting Hong Kong wanting to read material banned in China.
The other four Mighty Current staff who went missing are Gui Minghai and Lu Bo who are both co-owners of the company, and two employees Zhang Zhiping and Lin Rongji. Each of them disappeared on separate occasions during October. Gui — who is a Chinese born Swedish citizen — vanished from his condominium in Thailand. Lu, Zhang, and Lin were last seen in China’s Guangdong province, which neighbors Hong Kong.
The European Union have also voiced their concerns over the fate of the men, and in a statement they said that if security agents have taken the men it would be a volition of basic laws. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has also spoken out about the feared abductions.
In Hong Kong itself, activists and opposition politicians have voiced their concerns about what the case means for the former British colony.
“It is a matter concerning the fate of the ‘one country, two systems’,” said Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan, reported the South China Morning Post.
“We are not even talking about the democracy fight, but how the mainland law enforcement agencies or their aides have abducted people to mainland illegally for investigation… the legislature has the responsibility to follow up the case,” he said.
See why Hong Kongers believe their freedoms are increasingly being eroded by Beijing in this video by The Wall Street Journal:
One pro-Beijing politician in Hong Kong, Ng Leung-sing, said he heard that the missing staff had gone to the mainland to visit prostitutes. He apologized the next day for his comments, said The New York Times (NYT).
“The latest suggestion that the publisher went to Shenzhen and was arrested for having prostitution in Shenzhen is a laughable and well-known Communist smearing tactic,” Johannes Chan, a former dean of the University of Hong Kong’s law faculty wrote in an email to the NYT.
China watchers say the disappearances are part of an increased willingness of Chinese security agents to target its opponents abroad.
In October, the teenage son of a detained Chinese human rights lawyer was abducted in Burma, and sent back to China. There have been similar cases in nearby Thailand. There have also been cases of Hong Kong publishers and journalists being targeted by suspected pro-Beijing elements.
Additionally, Chinese security agents have been busy in the U.S. pressuring expatriates wanted on so-called corruption charges to return to the mainland.
“As China interacts to an ever greater degree with the world, these problems arise more frequently,” said Jerome A. Cohen, a director of the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at New York University told NYT. “It’s not only the extending reach of Chinese law, but the extending reach of Chinese lawlessness.”
According to RFA, Beijing now controls over 80 percent of Hong Kong’s publishing industry. Fear of China’s communists also means many of the remaining independent media outlets practice self-censorship.
Watch this message from Agnes Chow, a member of the student organization Scholarism Hong Kong, about the disappearance of the booksellers: