By Laura Mannering, AFP
HONG KONG–Hong Kong’s leader said he was “very concerned” Monday over the disappearance of five booksellers known for publications critical of the mainland Chinese authorities after a prominent lawmaker accused mainland security officers of kidnapping the men. The booksellers all worked for the same Hong Kong-based publishing house and are feared to have been detained by the mainland Chinese authorities, adding to growing unease that freedoms in the semi-autonomous city are being eroded. Under its constitution, Hong Kong enjoys freedom of speech and mainland Chinese law enforcers have no right to operate in the city.
“I and related government departments are very concerned,” Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying told reporters. “The government cares very much about Hong Kong residents’ rights and safety.” He added: “Only legal enforcement agencies in Hong Kong have the legal authority to enforce laws in Hong Kong.” Democratic Party legislator Albert Ho said Sunday he believed the men had been kidnapped by mainland Chinese security officers. At a regular briefing Monday, Beijing’s external affairs agency spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “I’m not aware of the situation; I have nothing to offer,” when asked about the latest bookseller to disappear, Lee Bo, who went missing last week.
But an editorial in the Global Times newspaper, close to the mainland’s ruling Chinese Communist Party, accused the bookstore run by the missing men of selling publications containing “maliciously fabricated content.” “These books spread to the mainland by various means, becoming a source of political rumors, and creating negative effects,” it said. “Although the … bookstore is based in Hong Kong, it maintains itself by causing trouble in the mainland.” The editorial, signed by Shan Renping, a pen name for the newspaper’s editor Hu Xijin, said a “handful” of Hong Kongers were launching “political attacks.”