January 21, 2016
Two of the missing Hong Kong booksellers mysteriously surface in China
by Liam O’Brien
New developments have emerged in the mystery of the five missing Hong Kong booksellers, as two of the men in question have apparently appeared in mainland China: Gui Minhai, owner of Mighty Current Media, and Lee Bo, the owner of Mighty Current’s affiliated bookstore. Conveniently, their reappearances allay suspicions that they were detained by the Chinese government for publishing politically subversive books.
Julie Makinen and Jonathan Kaiman report on the story’s bizarre turn for the Los Angeles Times:
One man appeared on state-run Chinese TV saying he’d voluntarily returned to the mainland to face justice in a 2003 drunk-driving case. Meanwhile, the wife of another said she had received a handwritten letter, purportedly from her husband, reiterating that he too had returned to the mainland of his own volition to assist with “investigations.”
…In Sunday’s broadcast on CCTV, Gui tearfully said he had returned to mainland China of his own free will to make amends for a DUI case that left a 23-year-old woman dead in Ningbo.
In the video, Gui says that although he “now holds Swedish citizenship, deep down I still think of myself as Chinese. … I hope the Swedish authorities will respect my personal choices, my rights and my privacy, and allow me to deal with my own issues.” In his comments, Gui does not specify where the video was recorded, nor how he returned to the mainland.
The broadcast was accompanied by a news bulletin from the New China News Agency pointing to a August 2006 warrant issued for Gui’s arrest, the result of allegedly violating his probation by leaving China in the aftermath of the traffic accident.
Gui’s message was immediately met with suspicion from Amnesty International, and the Swedish embassy in Beijing announced that any proof of Gui, a Swedish citizen, being extradited to China would “be very serious.” But to make a strange and suspicious situation even stranger, Lee’s family claims that they subsequently received a handwritten note from him denouncing Gui.
The note, reprinted in the South China Morning Post, said that Lee had learned about the DUI case and had realized that Gui “has a complicated history…and is a morally unacceptable person.”
The letter, addressed to Lee’s wife, Choi Ka-ping, asserted that Lee’s circumstances represented no threat to Hong Kong’s autonomy. “Some people used my immigration methods as an excuse to wantonly attack ‘one country, two systems’ and the Hong Kong government,” the note read. “This is ridiculous!”
Hong Kong police claim the mainland has confirmed with them that Lee is in China, but not where or why. It’s hard not to see a conspiracy here—with a confession and note of unknown provenance that both strongly smack of coercion and conveniently double as political propaganda. While it must be a relief to Gui’s family to see proof of life, it’s doubtful that these latest developments will assuage the fears of the already skittish Hong Kong book trade.
Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.