The American Booksellers Association is urging the chief executive of Hong Kong to demand that Chinese authorities release five employees of a Hong Kong publisher and bookseller who are being held on the Chinese mainland. ABA and seven associations of booksellers, publishers, and authors joined a February 17 letter by PEN American Center that calls on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to seek the release of the five men.
“We urge your government to do everything in its power to investigate these cases and demand the release of Cheung Chi-ping, Gui Minhai, Lam Wing-kee, Lee Bo, and Lui Por, who are confirmed to be in mainland Chinese custody,” the letter said.
Four of the men disappeared in October, and a fifth in December. All are connected to Mighty Current, a Hong Kong publisher and bookseller that is well-known for distributing books that are critical of the Chinese leadership.
It was widely suspected that the men had been seized by Chinese authorities and taken to the mainland. This was confirmed in the case of two of the men when one of them wrote to his wife that he was assisting in a police investigation there, and when another appeared in a video in which he said that he had returned to China in connection with a fatal accident that he had caused while driving drunk.
On February 4, Chinese police confirmed that the other three men are in custody and are being investigated for “illegal” activities.
The arrest of the five Hong Kong booksellers appears to be part of a crackdown on dissent by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who came to power in 2013. Mighty Current, which is known for its gossipy and sensationalistic books, may have become a target because of plans to publish a book accusing Xi of committing adultery. Hong Kong publishing houses publish many books by former government officials and journalists who have left the mainland so they can criticize the Chinese president.
In their letter, ABA and PEN American Center urge Chief Executive Leung to ask China to reaffirm its support for the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 in which it regained sovereignty over Hong Kong in return for a commitment to protect its autonomy and to respect freedom of speech and freedom of the press there.
The letter was also signed by the Association of American Publishers, Authors Guild, European & International Booksellers Federation, Federation of European Publishers, Independent Chinese PEN Center, and International Publishers Association.
Your Excellency Chief Executive Leung:
We, the undersigned free expression advocacy, publishing, and bookselling organizations, write to express our deep concern over the forced disappearances and detentions of four Hong Kong residents and a Chinese-born Swedish national associated with the Mighty Current publishing house. We urge your government to do everything in its power to investigate these cases and demand the release of Cheung Chi‑ping, Gui Minhai, Lam Wing‑kee, Lee Bo, and Lui Por, who are confirmed to be detained by mainland Chinese police.
As you know, Mr. Gui, a Swedish citizen, disappeared in October 2015, as did Mr. Cheung, Mr. Lam, and Mr. Lui, all Hong Kong residents. Lee Bo, a Hong Kong resident and a British passport holder, disappeared on December 30, 2015. On January 17, Gui Minhai made an apparently forced statement on Chinese state television that he had voluntarily returned to the mainland to help with an investigation into a fatal 2003 hit‑and‑run accident. On January 18, Chinese authorities acknowledged, after Hong Kong police demanded information about his location, that Lee Bo was detained on the mainland, and on February 4, they confirmed that the other three men are also held by mainland police.
The forced disappearance and detention of Hong Kong residents by mainland Chinese authorities is a direct and fundamental threat to Hong Kong’s treaty-based regional autonomy. These actions clearly violate both the “one country, two systems” policy established by the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, and Hong Kong’s Basic Law. Article 28 of the Basic Law protects Hong Kong residents from arbitrary or unlawful arrest, detention, or imprisonment. It also protects freedom of expression and press freedom (Art. 27), as does the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which remains in force in Hong Kong. Your government has a legal as well as a moral obligation to defend these rights.
These disappearances and detentions pose a serious threat to free expression. Mighty Current is known for producing and selling books that are critical of the Chinese government, which are regularly banned in mainland China but available in Hong Kong, and was accused in a recent Communist Party publication of “stirring up troubles on the mainland.” This case has sent a terrifying message to writers, publishers, and booksellers in Hong Kong that tackling politically sensitive topics can imperil an individual’s freedom and safety. These developments offer chilling confirmation of the steady erosion in freedom of expression in Hong Kong, as documented by a January 2015 PEN America report, Threatened Harbor: Encroachments on Press Freedom in Hong Kong, as well as by local watchdog groups such as the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association.
Books convey culture and culture empowers citizens. Freedom of expression is a fundamental democratic principle which must be respected in all circumstances. It is the backbone of publishing and bookselling industries.
The history, culture, and freedom of the people of Hong Kong are at stake in the outcome of this case. We respectfully urge you to insist that mainland authorities immediately release the five men they have detained. We also urge your government to request a formal assurance from Beijing that it will respect Hong Kong’s autonomy and abide by the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.
PEN American Center
Independent Chinese PEN Center
American Booksellers Association
Association of American Publishers
European & International Booksellers Federation
Federation of European Publishers
International Publishers Association