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Hong Kong stunned as five booksellers go missing

Anthony Wallace, AFP | An elderly lady looks at the display of titles at the Causeway Bay Books store featuring a book on Chinese President Xi Jinping, in Hong Kong on January 2, 2016

A fifth associate from a controversial Hong Kong bookshop went missing this week, sparking angry protests outside Beijing’s representative office as family members and activists blamed mainland Chinese authorities for his disappearance.


Lee Bo is a key shareholder of Causeway Bay Books, which sells paperbacks that are highly critical of the Chinese leadership. The books are particularly popular with Chinese tourists visiting from the mainland where such books are banned.

According to pro-democracy lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan, 65-year-old Lee disappeared ahead of the planned release of a book revealing details about President Xi Jinping’s love life.

“We have strong reason to believe that Mr Lee Bo was probably kidnapped and then smuggled back to the mainland for political investigation,” he told a press conference in the Chinese-ruled city on Sunday.

"There were warnings given to the owners not to publish this book. This book has not yet gone to print, but probably it has something to do with this," he said.

Lee is the fifth person associated with the bookstore to disappear since October. He was last seen on Wednesday leaving a warehouse with a consignment of books. His wife was alerted to his disappearance when he failed to turn up for dinner at his Hong Kong home that evening.

‘Called from the mainland’

Lee’s wife told local broadcaster Cable TV that Lee called her from a Shenzhen number, a mainland city immediately to the north of Hong Kong, that evening.

“He said he will not be coming back anytime soon. He said he was assisting an investigation. I asked him if it was about the previous cases, he said yes. It was about the missing [associates],” she said, adding her husband had spoken to her in Mandarin, the official language in mainland China, rather than in Cantonese which is largely used in Hong Kong.

“He later called me again and asked me not to make a scene. I guess it was the Shenzhen police.”

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong daily South China Morning Post cited a police source as saying there is currently no record of Lee having left the city.

Samuel Liu, a Hong Kong writer, said publisher Mighty Current, which owns and supplies Causeway Bay Books, has published some 80 titles on China since it was established in 2012.

“Many of them telling of lurid problems and scandals on the mainland, reportedly not always bothering with facts– [and] are huge sellers to mainlanders looking for a story different from the one the government tells them and who may buy half a dozen each to take back with them,” he wrote on the collaborative information platform Quora.

“That has spawned a thriving industry among the Chinese language booksellers. It has also generated a campaign to muscle the publishers into acquiescence,” he said.

Since October, Mighty Current’s owner Gui Minhai, its General Manager Lui Bo, its Business Manager Cheung Jiping and bookstore manager Lam Wing-kei have been reported missing.

On Sunday, dozens of pro-democracy activists marched to Beijing’s representative office to demand answers over the disappearances.

‘In the past we were safe’

Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule from Britain in 1997, the city has been operating under a mini-constitution which guarantees wide-ranging personal freedoms unseen on the mainland and independent law enforcement.

The disappearances of the booksellers, however, have stoked fears that Beijing is attempting to tighten its grip on the city.

Agnes Chow Ting, a member of student activist group Scholarism Hong Kong, on Sunday posted a video on both Facebook and YouTube where she called on global media to draw attention to the disappearances, saying they indicate “the erosion” of the one-country, two-system law that Hong Kong and China were supposed to be operating under.

“[Hong Kong] citizens who sell politically sensitive books were not supposed to be suppressed by any threats of ‘disappearance’ and imprisonment with the existence of freedom of press and speech,” she said. “In the past, we were safe because we lived in Hong Kong instead of the mainland China. However, the circumstances have changed.”

She ended the video by saying she now feared for her own safety, but added that she remains firm in her conviction of fighting for the freedom of Hong Kong citizens.

“Let us stand up [and] show our discontent on this abduction and stop the further suppression [of] political dissent in Hong Kong.”

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