January 4, 2016
Fifth employee connected to Hong Kong bookstore goes missing
by Liam O’Brien
When we first wrote about the four Hong Kong bookstore employees that went missing in November, there was immediate media speculation that the men had been detained by the Chinese government due to the bookstore’s stock of politically charged books. Now, there is an unsettling new development—a fifth man, the store’s co-owner, has also gone missing.
As reported by Alfred Liu for Bloomberg:
Hong Kong’s police department classified the disappearance of a bookstore’s co-owner as a missing-person case.
Lee Bo, a major shareholder of Causeway Bay Books, which specializes in material critical of the Communist Party of China, went missing and his wife reported his disappearance Jan. 1, the South China Morning Post said Saturday. The disappearance of Lee, 65, comes weeks after four people related to the store and its owner vanished, the newspaper said.
The police have asked China whether Lee was detained in the mainland and are awaiting a reply.
Lee’s co-owner, Gui Minhai, one of the four missing employees, has been in infrequent contact with his wife, but his whereabouts (as well as the reasoning behind his disappearance) remain largely unknown. The other missing employees have not been heard from since November.
Lee was last seen exiting the company’s warehouse. Sophie Choi, his wife, received a mysterious phone call later that evening. According to the Hong Kong Free Press:
“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 Television, describing a call she had with Lee the night he failed to return home.
It was not clear what investigation Lee was referring to.
“I asked him if it was related to the case before. He said ‘yes’, regarding that case where a few others had gone missing,” Choi said.
Lee later called Choi from an unfamiliar number that was traced to Shenzhen, on the Chinese mainland, and has not been heard from since.
A local legislator who frequented Causeway Bay Books has publicly theorized that the disappearances are connected to a planned book about a former lover of President Xi Jinping. However, until/if Hong Kong authorities can make headway in the mainland, loved ones of the missing booksellers will have little consolation or closure, and their colleagues will have to face the incredibly scary prospect that they might be next.
Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.