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Hong Kong Booksellers' Disappearance Raises Concerns About China's Reach

  • Shannon Van Sant

FILE - Pro-democracy lawmakers display portraits of Lee Bo, one of the five booksellers who disappeared from a local bookstore, as Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying speaks during his annual policy address at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Jan. 13, 2016. The Chinese characters on the placards read, "Where is Lee Bo?"

FILE - Pro-democracy lawmakers display portraits of Lee Bo, one of the five booksellers who disappeared from a local bookstore, as Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying speaks during his annual policy address at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Jan. 13, 2016. The Chinese characters on the placards read, "Where is Lee Bo?"

As the mystery of Hong Kong’s missing booksellers continues, the Chinese government has confirmed two of the five that vanished are in the mainland. The case has raised concern in the former British colony that China is expanding its reach to intimidate and detain dissidents beyond mainland Chinese borders.

This week, Chinese security officials confirmed that Hong Kong publisher Lee Bo is in the mainland. Lee, a British passport holder, vanished three weeks ago after a trip to his company’s Hong Kong warehouse.

The confirmation by officials in Guangdong province comes just after Lee’s colleague, Gui Minhai, appeared on CCTV confessing to a hit and run accident in the mainland in 2003. Gui had vanished while on vacation in Thailand. They are two of five publishers who went missing over the last few months.

Abductions?

Hong Kong Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho says the disappearances of the publishers raises concerns that China is abducting Hong Kong citizens critical of the Beijing government.

“It is very threatening to the Hong Kong people, because it is related to the personal safety and security of the people. It is much more important than political development or democratization. It concerns whether every Hong Kong citizen is vulnerable to being taken away or kidnapped,” he said.This week pro-Beijing lawmaker Jasper Tsang also expressed his concern. Tsang said the CCTV report did not calm the Hong Kong public, and as the case drags it will raise more questions. He said if more details did not come to light, the Hong Kong government should seek assistance from the central government in Beijing.

Pro-democracy protesters call for an investigation behind disappearance of Causeway Bay Bookstore staff and owners outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong, Jan. 3, 2016.

Pro-democracy protesters call for an investigation behind disappearance of Causeway Bay Bookstore staff and owners outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong, Jan. 3, 2016.

Protest march

The disappearances inspired thousands of people to stage a protest march in Hong Kong earlier this month, demanding more information on the missing booksellers, and many protesters said the Hong Kong government needs to better represent the interests of the Hong Kong people when dealing with Beijing.

“The government needs to continue over the long run to be very vigilant that the rights contained in the basic law are actually implemented,” said William Nee, who is with Amnesty International.

Criticism of Chinese government

Lee, Gui and their colleagues published books that were banned in the mainland, and often contained salacious information on the private lives of Chinese leaders. This month, some Hong Kong bookstores removed books critical of the Chinese government from their shelves.

“We have heard reports about other booksellers shops are now very quickly taking away books that they think might be offensive to the mainland authorities, or not even daring to publish certain books,” said Emily Law, chair of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party.

Hong Kong police say that Guangdong officials also forwarded them a letter from Lee to the Hong Kong government. Police said the letter was similar to one he purportedly wrote to his wife, saying that he “voluntarily” went to the mainland to assist authorities with an investigation.

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