HK disappearances cut deep into freedom fears


HONG KONG — The disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers has sent shivers through Hong Kong as anxiety grows that Chinese control over the city is tightening. Bookshops are removing political works from their shelves, while publishers and store owners selling titles banned in mainland China say they now feel under threat. The five missing men all worked for publishing house Mighty Current, known for books critical of the Chinese government, and are feared to have been detained by mainland authorities. But it is the latest disappearance that has triggered the most outrage. Publisher Lee Bo, 65, was last seen in Hong Kong — the only one of the five men to have disappeared while in his home city.

“The biggest problem is if they really came to Hong Kong to snatch people. It has never happened before,” Jin Zhong, a mainland-born, Hong Kong-based publisher of banned books, told AFP.

“If it becomes a norm and people can be snapped up anytime from here … it is a big blow.” The other four men are believed to have gone missing when they were visiting southern China and Thailand. “As a free society, we are supposed to be able to provide an open platform for different voices in Hong Kong,” says Paul Tang, owner of the city’s People’s Recreation Community bookstore, which sells titles banned on the mainland. Tang describes the disappearances as “white terror.” “None of us know how far it will go,” he said. City at a Crossroads Furious pro-democracy lawmakers, activists and residents, who believe Lee was kidnapped by mainland authorities, say Beijing is trampling the “one country, two systems” deal under which Hong Kong has been governed since it was handed back by Britain to China in 1997. The two sides agreed Hong Kong was to preserve its freedoms and way of life for 50 years — Chinese law enforcers have no right to operate in the city. The disappearances come against a simmering backdrop of disaffection over increased interference from Beijing in politics and education.