China is growing increasingly bold in its de facto control of Hong Kong. Related to this, there has been yet another mysterious “disappearance” of a major figure at a Hong Kong-based publishing house known for its books taking a negative or humorous stance towards the mainland Chinese government and its leaders.
Lee Bo, the chief editor and controlling shareholder in a publishing company that markets popular books critical of China’s Communist Party leaders, disappeared last Wednesday in an apparent illegal abduction by mainland Chinese police. Of note, Lee is the fifth member of the Mighty Current publishing house to disappear recently, following publicity about a soon-to-be-published new expose on the love life of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Mighty Current publications are banned in mainland China, but are available and quite popular in Hong Kong, which enjoys freedom of the press and other civil liberties unlike on the mainland. This is due to Hong Kong’s status as a specially administered region of China. The recent disappearances, however, point to worries that the Chinese authorities are tightening their grip on the former British colony as part of a general move across the Middle Kingdom to quash any dissent.
More an apparent kidnappings by China in Hong Kong
Following his disappearance, Lee sent a fax to a colleague, claiming he had traveled to China “by my own means, to cooperate with an investigation carried out by relevant department,” and said he was “good” and all was “normal.” The fax was published by Taiwan’s Central News Agency, seemed rather odd, given that Hong Kong police have no record of Lee passing through immigration, and his wife is already on the record saying that he was not carrying any travel documents.
Political analysts highlight that “assisting the authorities with an investigation” is pretty much a euphemism for detention by the government on suspicion of criminal activity. There is a growing consensus today that Lee was abducted by Chinese law enforcement, and that the fax was sent under pressure to try and defuse the situation.
Also of note, Lee’s wife, Sophie Choi, withdrew her earlier complaint with the Hong Kong Police Department, based on a report in the local Ming Pao newspaper.
Choi told media sources that she received a phone call from Lee the night he disappeared. She said he told her at that point that he was “assisting an investigation” and mentioned the earlier disappearances, but did not offer any other details. The prefix suggested the call from Lee came from Shenzhen, the coastal Chinese city closest to Hong Kong.
“I think it’s a charade performed under duress,” argued Claudia Mo, a Hong Kong representative with the pro-democracy Civic Party. “He has obviously been smuggled out, but his wife has got the message that keeping a low profile would help his release, because the Chinese would save face.”
Statement on Monday from leader of Hong Kong
As global media coverage of the story grew, pressure increased for Hong Kong authorities to make a statement. Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, spoke to the media on Monday, saying that, according to the Basic Law, the law enforcement agencies of Hong Kong have the sole authority to enforce laws throughout the territory.
“The freedom of the press and freedom of publication and freedom of expression are protected by laws in Hong Kong,” he said in an official transcript of his comments, and went on to claim he was paying extra close attention to the developing case.
Hong Kong Acting Secretary for Security John Lee said local police were pursuing Lee’s disappearance as a “missing persons” case and had contacted authorities on the mainland to broaden the investigation.
Hong Kong activist Agnes Chow made a plea for everyone to fight for their rights in Hong Kong in a You Tube Video.
“In the past we were safe because we lived in Hong Kong and not in mainland China. However, the circumstances have changed with the abduction,” Chow, a former spokeswoman for the student organization Scholarism, which played a leading role in the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests in Hong Kong, exhorted in her video.
Chow’s video has gone viral, now being viewed over 900,000 times on Facebook and YouTube. “We feel that Hong Kong is not Hong Kong anymore, it is named as Hong Kong only.”