Protests Continue Over Disappearance of Hong Kong Booksellers

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Protests over the disappearance of five employees of a Hong Kong publisher and its bookstore are continuing two weeks after the last of the men vanished. There is strong evidence suggesting that the employees of the publishing company, Mighty Current, and the Causeway Bay Bookstore are being held in China. Mighty Current is well known for publishing books that are critical of the Chinese government, including some that focus on the sex lives of Chinese leaders.

The most recent evidence that the men are in China is a video of one of them, Gui Minhai, that aired on Chinese television on January 18. In the video, Gui, who disappeared from his residence in Thailand, says that he returned to China voluntarily in connection with an auto accident that occurred more than 10 years ago in which he killed a woman while driving drunk. His daughter said the statement was coerced.

The release of the video may be a response by the Chinese government to growing pressure for an explanation for the disappearances. Gui is a citizen of Sweden and another holds a British passport. The Swedish, British, and American governments have all expressed concern about their disappearance.

There have also been demonstrations outside the office of the Chinese representative in Hong Kong. Under the 1997 agreement for Britain’s return of Hong Kong to China, the Chinese government is required to respect the free speech rights of Hong Kong residents.

During the demonstrations, thousands of protesters have accused China of suppressing free speech. “For Hong Kong, this is the first time there has been such a clear violation of Hong Kong’s law, a clear violation of ‘one country, two systems’ principle, that has taken place in such an open manner,” Albert Chan, a politician with the pro-democracy People Power Party, told the BBC. Another pro-democracy politician called the disappearances a “milestone for suppression.”

The American Booksellers Association issued a statement on January 7 expressing its “extreme concern” over the fate of the booksellers. It called for the Chinese government to explain the disappearances and to release the men immediately if they are in custody. The Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, the European and International Booksellers Federation, and PEN American Center joined ABA in issuing the statement.