More information has been shed on HK bookstore employee Lee Bo’s disappearance and it is now known that he is being held in China.
Lee’s wife has withdrawn her request for police help due to a faxed letter from him, in which he says he went to the mainland of his own will to help in an “investigation” and that everything is fine. He also says he will be in the mainland for some time. If all this doesn’t sound suspicious, I wonder what will.
Indeed, people helping the family think the letter was written by Lee under orders from his captors in an attempt to quell the public outcry over his disappearance. The case has received a lot of publicity so this tactic will not work. Lee’s wife had initially said she got several calls from him using a Shenzhen (mainland city next to HK) number in which he said he was “assisting in an investigation” and not to report it, but she ended up doing so.
Hong Kong’s administration has been forced to address this issue, with HK leader Leung Chun-ying saying that while there is no evidence Lee Bo was kidnapped by China, it would be unacceptable if that was indeed the case. Hong Kong has an autonomous status under the “One Country, Two Systems” agreement so there is border control between it and mainland China, HK has its own laws, and Chinese police cannot operate in Hong Kong.
Lee Bo is actually the fifth employee of the bookstore, which sells books that are critical of the Chinese Communist Party, to have disappeared, with the other four missing since November. The store’s books are obviously banned in China.
Young HK activist Agnes Chow made an urgent video message blasting China about the missing booksellers and said this latest alleged violation further undermines HK’s autonomy. Why this is important is because unlike China, Hong Kong still has rule of law and freedom of speech and press. As Chow says, HK citizens cannot be taken in secret and jailed without fair process or trial.
“Unlike mainland China, Hong Kong does not adopt authoritarian governance. Citizens who sell politically sensitive books are not supposed to be suppressed by any threats of disappearance and imprisonment, with the existence of freedom of press and speech.”
At the end of her video, Chow says the disappearance of the five Hong Kong booksellers reminded her of the words of Martin Niemöller, the German pastor who opposed the Nazis.
“First they came for the activists, and I did not speak out because I was not an activist,” Chow says. “Then they came for the journalists, and I did not speak out because I was not a journalist. Then they came for the bookseller, and I did not speak out because I was not a bookseller. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”
A SCMP columnist also had the same message as he urged the case to be solved quickly.
“The government must quickly get to the bottom of the case. The midnight knock on the door is not something we have had to worry about in Hong Kong. But if we do now, that would be the end of our way of life.”
This kind of thing happens frequently in mainland China where there is no rule of law. Journalists, activists, rights lawyers, anybody who the authorities target, even tycoons and disgraced officials, are arbitrarily and secretly detained and jailed, without due process, public notice or media coverage. That is a very sad reality which mainland Chinese can only tolerate or ignore. But HKers and the rest of the world cannot and should not. As long as these HK booksellers are still being held in China, people must never keep silent.