reuters, hong kong, book sellers, censorship, arrest, illegal

Did China Silence 5 Hong Kong Booksellers Via Kidnapping?

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The Missing Men

Five men who worked for Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay Bookstore, a shop that distributes literature critical of the Chinese Communist Party, have gone missing over the past few months. Hong Kong residents believe the men were kidnapped and smuggled into mainland China, most likely by government agents.

The five men were working on a book about Chinese president Xi Jinping’s love life. Whatever was in that book may have made someone in the Chinese Communist Party very angry.

The most recent disappearance, Lee Bo, happened just last week. The BBC reports,

He failed to arrive home on Wednesday evening and his wife has been unable to reach him. She told the BBC she is deeply afraid.

One of his colleagues said Mr. Lee was taken away by unknown men and the fear is that Chinese officials have reached beyond mainland China to punish them for their work, our correspondent Juliana Liu in Hong Kong reports.

Two of the previous four men who disappeared were last seen in Shenzhen, mainland China, where their wives live; one was last seen in Hong Kong; and the other, the owner of the publishing house, was last heard from by email from Pattaya, Thailand, where he owns a holiday home.

Lee spoke to the BBC last November, after four of his colleagues disappeared. He suggested that the Chinese government was responsible, telling a reporter, “I suspect all of them were detained. Four people went missing at the same time.”

Lee’s wife claims her husband was lured to a warehouse with false offers of a book sale, where he was ambushed and kidnapped.

A few hours after his disappearance, Mrs. Lee received a phone call from her husband. Speaking in Mandarin (which is strange, since Hong Kong residents generally speak in Cantonese), Mr. Lee told her he was assisting the authorities with an investigation. The caller ID showed that the phone call came from Shenzhen, a city in mainland China. When she asked him if was in Shenzhen, he did not respond.

Mrs. Lee told Apple Daily that her husband’s passport was still at their home in Hong Kong. Because a passport is required to travel between Hong Kong and mainland China, this suggests that Mr. Lee did not enter China voluntarily or through official channels.

The disappearance of the five booksellers has sparked outrage in Hong Kong. Local residents protested at Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong on Sunday, and the Hong Kong police have demanded answers from mainland police.

Beijing officials have yet to offer an explanation for the disappearances.


“One Country, Two Systems”

Though Hong Kong is a territory of the PRC, it is not exactly a part of China. Operating by a “one country, two systems” principle, Hong Kong more or less functions as a separate entity from mainland China, complete with its own legal system, political system, police force and currency. Hong Kong offers much more political freedom than mainland China does. The internet is uncensored, for instance, and citizens can hold protests and criticize the government.

Under the “one country, two systems” principle, mainland Chinese police do not have a legal right to arrest anyone in Hong Kong. In order to detain the five booksellers in mainland China, someone (presumably government-affiliated agents) would have had to kidnap the men and smuggle them across the border.

Hong Kong Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho said the disappearances have led people to fear that Beijing is now ignoring the “one country, two systems” principle.

If those fears are true, then the citizens of Hong Kong are at risk of losing their freedom of speech. The threat of being kidnapped and taken to a Chinese prison is terrifying. Chinese prisons are notorious for human rights abuses; pre-trial detainees are held in secret “black jails” where they’re physically and psychologically tortured in order to get them to confess.

These disappearances are just part of what many are saying is the worst crackdown on human rights China has seen in decades. The Guardian reports:

Since Xi Jinping became China’s leader in 2012, at least 500 human rights activists and dissidents have been arrested and sentenced to prison. Rights defenders, minorities, NGOs, the internet, underground churches, universities, journalists and writers have all suffered severe controls and persecution. The authorities have taken their policy of “stability maintenance” a step further – to eliminate China’s nascent civil society altogether. Xi is seeking to destroy the people’s ability to resist by stopping the rise of activist leaders and uprooting all the nodes of civil society, which has been quietly growing for the past 10 years.

And now, it appears that the crackdown is seeping into Hong Kong. Will Taiwan be next?