On 30th December last year, Lee Bo aged 65, went to a warehouse to collect books but did not return and his worried wife searched him but to no avail. Around 10:00 pm, she received a call and it was her husband speaking from Shenzhen in mainland China. “He said he wouldn’t be back so soon and he was assisting in an investigation,” Lee’s wife Sophie Choi told Hong Kong’s Cable TV.
Lee is the fifth Hong Kong bookseller who went missing and the investigation he told he was assisting is related to four other booksellers who went missing so far. Lee is an employee of a publishing house, Mighty Current which publishes and sells books critical of the Communist Party of China.
A Hong Kong student activist said that bookstore where Lee works is popular destination for mainland tourists where they can get books banned in China.
Lee is the latest victim of China’s increasing control over the relatively free and open media culture of Hong Kong which enjoys some degree of autonomy since British handed it over to China in 1997 and such space is not available anywhere in China.
Before Lee’s disappearance and detention, four of his colleagues went missing. Hong Kong Free Press reported that the publishing company’s manager Lui Bo, an employee Cheung Jinping and bookstore manager Lam Wing-kei are also apparently missing after disappearing in southern China in October last year. It is also reported in Hong Kong local media that Gui Minhai, a Swedish national and co-owner of Mighty Current went missing at the same time during a holiday in Thailand and remains to be unknown till date.
The disappearance of people associated with publishing house and bookstore remains matter of great concern to people in Hong Kong and the city’s police are investigating into the matter.
But the liberties Hong Kong enjoy seemed too costly for CCP to continue its monopoly of power. Hong Kong media personalities also come under attacks in the recent past and one of more serious attacks was taken on Kevin Lau, former chief editor of the Ming Pao Daily who wrote critical reports on China. In 2014 Lau was stabbed in the back several times by a man in helmet. No arrest was made and nobody knows the identity of the attacker. Though short of evidence, the assault on Lau was directly linked to China. Before the attack Lau was sacked what the media and people seen as under Beijing’s pressure for exposing assets hidden offshore by Chinese elites and his job was given to a Malaysian Chinese journalist who was known to enjoy close ties with Beijing.
Offices of small independent media outlets were attacked and ransacked in the recent past especially that of the anti-Beijing paper, Apple Daily.
Lee made a second call to his wife telling her not to make the news of his detention public.