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Hong Kong Bookseller's Disappearance Stokes Fears of Cross-Border Kidnaps by Mainland Chinese Police

Hong Kong newspaper, Apple Daily's front page report on the missing bookseller Lee Bo on January 3, 2016. Non-commercial use.

Hong Kong newspaper, Apple Daily's front page report on the missing bookseller Lee Bo on January 3, 2016. Non-commercial use.

2016 brought a dose of chilling news to Hong Kong after yet another local bookseller was believed kidnapped by mainland Chinese secret police.

Lee Bo, who disappeared December 30 is the fifth bookseller from Causeway Bay Bookstore that specialised in publishing and selling literature banned in China to disappear unexplained.

Four other colleagues from the same bookstore disappeared from their residences in Shenzhen and Thailand respectively in October.

In November, Lee Bo himself had told BBC News that his colleagues were detained by the Chinese authorities because of their publishing work.

Among the four is Gui Minhai, a China-born Swedish national and the owner of the publishing house which owns the bookstore.

Gui disappeared from his holiday home in Thailand around mid-October while he was working on a book detailing Chinese President Xi Jinping's private life.

At around 10:30pm on December 30, Mr Lee's wife received a phone call from her husband who spoke in Putonghua instead of his native Cantonese.

Lee told her he was assisting in an investigation and he would not return home for a period of time.

As indicated in the phone record, the call was made from Shenzhen and his wife later found out that Lee's “homecoming card” — a travel document for entering mainland China was still at home — meaning he could not have left Hong Kong through proper immigration channels.

The Hong Kong authorities later also confirmed that Mr. Lee did not have any record of having exited the island.

Mr. Lee's wife told local press that her husband was lured by a fake book order call and went to the warehouse to collect the books.

He went missing after he left with a dozen books. The public believes that Lee was forcibly taken by mainland Chinese authorities from Hong Kong to Shenzhen.

Under the One Country Two Systems arrangement, Hong Kong enjoys judicial independence and Chinese authorities do not have jurisdiction to operate there without prior approval.

If Mr. Lee was indeed kidnapped by mainland Chinese secret police, the judicial independence of the city may have been compromised.

On Facebook, netizens were astonished by the first major news item of the New Year. Columnist Si Hing of non-profit Stand News epitomised public sentiment:

我恐懼,因為終於證實咗喺香港唔會有任何嘢、喺我無犯任何法下保護到我嘅人生安全。而家香港居民可以隨意被非本地執法人員帶走,而政府係完全唔會保護你-不單喺係實際上唔會,連喺口頭上、公關上亦唔敢講一句「絕對唔容許有任何外地執法人員喺香港執法」。

I am terrified, because this case has proven that nothing can protect my personal safety even if I have not broken any law. Hong Kong residents can be taken away by non-local law enforcers and the government will not protect you. It will neither protect you in action, nor in words by saying “We won't allow any unauthorized overseas law enforcers to operate in Hong Kong.”

我忿怒,因為呢(五)個香港居民,只係普通到不得了嘅人,就如你我,佢哋無犯任何法,而個人權利沒有受到應得嘅保護。如果你認為,賣禁書就係「特別」、賣禁書就應該被帶走,我只係能講你屌你老母,你咁撚中意大陸你就返去住啦。

I am angry because these five Hong Kong residents are just ordinary people like you and me. They have not broken any law but their rights have not been protected. If you think selling banned books are “special cases” or people selling banned books should be taken away, I can only say “F**k you, why don't you move to your beloved mainland China.”

我無奈,因為除咗喺Facebook屌,我發覺真係乜嘢都做唔到。我已經諗唔到可以同邊個求助同投訴。向上帝求救?打1238?去白宮求助?還是,生活如常,當乜嘢都冇發生過?

I feel helpless because apart from expressing my anger on Facebook, I can't do anything. I don't know who should I ask for help or to whom to file the complaint. To God? Making random calls? To the White House? Or just continue to live a normal life and pretend nothing happened?

我不安,因為下一個畀人帶走嘅,可能係我。邊個知原來喺香港賣大陸嘅禁書,會畀人喺香港監生拖返大陸?邊個知一個喺Facebook屌鳩共產黨嘅人又使唔使受到同樣對待?要透過IP搵到一個人嘅地址,呢個喺技術上絕對做得到。令我更加不安嘅係,被帶走嘅可能係你、你、你,或者你。而你,可能畀人帶走咗都無人知。純粹人間蒸發。

I feel anxious because I may end up the next one taken away. Who would have thought selling banned books could end up with you being kidnapped to mainland China? Who knows if cursing the Chinese Communist Party can also cause that? It is technically possible to locate people's IP addresses. Every one of you may end up being taken away. And some of you may just be vaporized without anyone knowing that you have been taken away.

Since 2014, the mainland Chinese authorities have been cracking down on publishers of banned books in Hong Kong.

In May 2014, a Hong Kong publisher Yao Wentian was sentenced to 10 years for smuggling. His publishing house was about to release a dissident-authored title focused on Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In the same month, two Hong Kong Chinese political magazine publishers Wang Jianmin and Guo Zhongjiao were prosecuted for illegal distribution of Hong Kong publications.

As it is likely that all the missing five booksellers are now held in mainland China, the Hong Kong Journalist Association and the Independent Writer Association wrote to the Liaison Office of the Central Government demanding a full explanation:

1. 盡快澄清香港「銅鑼灣書店」失踪五人的下落。他們是否身在內地?
2. 如是,他們所涉何事?因何在內地?他們如何和何時到內地?
3. 盡快回應事件有否涉及內地執法人員的境外行動? 交代這些行動的相關的法理和依據。
4. 內地當局採取了甚麼措施保證這五人的人身自由和法律權利?
5. 內地當局如何看待和處理在香港出版的「領導人禁書」?過去有否對在港的出版計劃作出過任何干預?

1. Explain the whereabouts of the missing five booksellers of the Causeway Bay Bookstore. Are they are in mainland China?
2. If they are [in mainland China], what is the reason [behind their detention]? How did they end up in mainland China?
3. Does the incident involve the overseas operations of mainland Chinese law enforcers? What are the legal bases for their operation?
4. How do the mainland Chinese authorities ensure the five access legal assistance and personal protection?
5. How do the mainland Chinese authorities handle generally the publication of “banned books on top leaders” in Hong Kong? Have there been any interventions in the publication of [banned books] in Hong Kong?

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