I don’t quite like starting off the year with a critical post, but I wouldn’t if the year hadn’t started with extraordinary news of a bookstore employee going missing in Hong Kong and being taken to the mainland. That is exactly what has happened with Lee Bo, an employee of a HK bookstore that sells books critical of China’s ruling CCP, who went missing Wednesday night and is believed to have been taken to the mainland.
Now, one might ask, isn’t it just a disappearance, and why should China be suspected of this?
First, no ransom demands have been made so this is not a commercial kidnapping.
Second, the fact is that Lee is the fifth employee of this bookstore to have disappeared and believed to have been taken into custody since last November. The previous four employees, one of whom was the store’s owner, haven’t been heard from since after they were believed to have been kidnapped in Hong Kong, Thailand and mainland China. The Chinese government has said absolutely nothing about these disappearances.
Third, Lee’s wife said she got a call from him using a Shenzhen number, in which he said he had to assist in an “investigation.”
“Mrs Lee said her husband spoke in Putonghua – a language he rarely uses – and he told her he cannot come home as he needs to assist with an investigation. He also said if he co-operates, he can be dealt with leniently.
In the call, he repeatedly reminded Mrs Lee to be careful and to take good care of their 25-year-old autistic son.
Mrs Lee said she believes other people were around her husband when he made the call because he paused when mentioning Shenzhen.
Her husband also told her not to publicise the incident, but she decided to seek the police’s help to show that her husband had not been involved in any wrongdoing.”
Assisting in an investigation is also the reason given by authorities, though never explicitly, for many instances when Chinese executives and magnates, including one of China’s richest men, went missing in the past year.
The HK bookstore that Lee Bo and his four colleagues worked for is well-known for selling Chinese-language books that directly criticize the Chinese Communist Party and are, of course forbidden in mainland China. Mainland tourists are said to visit the store for their books.
The seizure of Lee Bo in HK continues a worrying trend of China extending the seizure of dissidents and critics outside the mainland, including Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia. Last July, Thailand detained 109 Uighur refugees and sent them back to China despite Turkey offering them asylum, while the 16-year-old son of a detained Chinese rights lawyer was caught by Myanmar while attempting to flee to the US and sent back to China.
There has been an increasing number of shady and even downright detentions and crackdowns by China on activists, lawyers, journalists and others in the past two years, but this latest kidnapping suggests things will not improve in any way. This is truly an insidious regime whose acts are becoming more and more vile and outrageous, and people need to speak up more, not keep quiet or keep their heads down.