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Offline mayya

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Hong Kong politicians call for Beijing to explain booksellers' 'abductions'
Legislators say suspected snatching of Lee Bo in Hong Kong, after four colleagues vanished in China and Thailand, violates ‘one country, two systems’ rule

 Demonstrators outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong hold pictures of Lee Bo (right), Gui Minhai (left) and other Sage Communications employees who have gone missing. Photograph: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Tom Phillips in Beijing
Sunday 3 January 2016 12.58 GMTLast modified on Monday 4 January 201616.21 GMT

Politicians in Hong Kong are demanding answers from Beijing over the mysterious disappearance of a group of booksellers who specialised in tabloid-style exposés about China’s communist leaders.

Five men linked to Sage Communications – a Hong Kong publisher known for its salacious tomes on the private lives of mainland politicians – have apparently been abducted since October, in what some suspect is a Beijing-backed bid to silence the company.

The missing include Gui Minhai, the company’s 51-year-old owner, who vanished from his beachfront apartment in Thailand on 17 October, and three employees who were last seen at around the same time in the Chinese cities of Dongguan and Shenzhen.

Gui Minhai: the strange disappearance of a publisher who riled China's elite

On Friday, it emerged that Gui’s business partner, 65-year-old Lee Bo, had also disappeared.

Lee’s wife, Sophie Choi, told reporters her husband appeared to have been snatched on Wednesday afternoon after being lured to a warehouse in Hong Kong where his company stored its sensational tomes on communist party chieftains.

Claudia Mo, an outspoken member of Hong Kong’s legislative council for the Civic party, said Lee’s apparent abduction – which many suspect is the work of mainland security agents – was a violation of the “one country, two systems” formula under which Hong Kong has operated since its return to Chinese control in 1997.

Under that formula, mainland police are forbidden from operating in the former British colony.


 Claudia Mo, left, and other pro-democracy politicians demonstrate in Hong Kong in June. Photograph: Reuters

“It seems like the public security people from the mainland have come down to Hong Kong to literally kidnap this missing person,” Mo, who has written to security officials in the former colony demanding an explanation, told the Guardian on Sunday.

“It is a huge attack on Hong Kong’s ‘one country, two systems’. What they have done is completely unthinkable and this is giving people cold chills. If that can happen to the booksellers today it is going to happen to you and me tomorrow and it is going to happen to the whole of Hong Kong the day after. It is just more than scary. Hong Kong is becoming increasingly mainlandised, meaning Chinese communist-ised.”

Dennis Kwok, also a Civic party lawmaker, said he would file an urgent question over the case at a session of Hong Kong’s parliament on Monday.
“A lot of Hong Kong people are extremely concerned about this. This kind of stuff is not supposed to happen in Hong Kong. We are naturally very concerned – especially with the political background of this case that he is the publisher of books that are banned in [mainland] China,” he said. “I am trying to get some answers from the Hong Kong government and I believe that they are making contacts with [Chinese] authorities to see what is happening.”
In a letter to the Hong Kong official responsible for mainland affairs, Kwok wrote: “If proven, the incident would deal a fatal blow to ‘one country, two systems’ and Hong Kong’s judicial independence.”

Choi told reporters her husband had been spooked by his colleagues’ apparent abductions and had been avoiding trips to mainland China in recent weeks.
“He thought it was quite safe in Hong Kong,” she was quoted as saying by theApple Daily newspaper.

 The apartment block in Pattaya, Thailand, from where Gui Minhai went missing in October. Photograph: Oliver Holmes for the Guardian

Choi said her husband had failed to return home on Wednesday and later called from a mainland number asking her to “be careful” and to take care of the couple’s 25-year-old son.
“He said he wouldn’t be back so soon and he was assisting in an investigation,” she told local television.

Choi said she believed her husband had been calling from Shenzhen, a city in southern China, but a Hong Kong police source told the South China Morning Post there was no record of Lee having left the former colony.
The disappearances in Thailand, and now Hong Kong, which is supposed to enjoy judicial independence from the mainland, have stoked fears about Beijing’s growing willingness to track down its opponents overseas.
Kwok said the whereabouts of the five missing booksellers remained a mystery. “There are a lot of questions at the moment. Where is Mr Lee? What happened to him and his colleagues? Where is his location? How [did he] apparently get to Shenzhen … without any exit record in Hong Kong immigration?” he said.

Kwok dismissed speculation that a criminal gang might be responsible for the disappearances, noting that Lee had told his wife he was “assisting” an investigation.

“It seems like authorities are the ones who are holding him and not anyone else,” he said. “If you were taken by triads you wouldn’t say you were assisting an investigation. It seems he is being held by the authorities in mainland China.”

In an interview with the Guardian just weeks before he went missing, Lee Bo said his colleagues’ suspected abductions had sent shockwaves through Hong Kong’s publishing community.

“All my authors are a bit scared now. They are all afraid the same thing will happen to them,” he said.
Lee said he could not explain what was happening but suspected it was connected to a mysterious book that Gui had been preparing to publish. Asked what the book was about, Lee said: “Nobody knows.”

Speaking on Sunday, Mo said: “I wish the Hong Kong security officials, including the police, would speak up and speak out and tell the entire population what exactly they knew about this case and ultimately, of course, Lee Bo should be allowed to come back home soonest.”

Beijing has so far refused to comment on the growing scandal.
In early December a foreign ministry official declined to respond to a question from the Guardian about suspicions that Chinese authorities had been involved in Gui’s disappearance.

“I’m not aware of the specific case that you mentioned,” spokesperson Hua Chunying said.
Bei Ling, a Chinese poet and dissident who has known Lee’s wife since the 90s, said Choi had last heard from her husband when he called at about 11am on Saturday morning.

“He said everything was OK,” Bei said.
Choi then asked her husband where he was. “He hung up the phone.”