Many international organizations had expressed concern that the booksellers had been abducted by Chinese authorities for selling "unauthorized" books, violating agreements relating to Hong Kong. A joint letter from PEN and the American Booksellers Assn. expressed "deep concern over the forced disappearances and detentions" as "a direct and fundamental threat to Hong Kong's treaty-based regional autonomy."
The four men, Cheung Chi Ping, Gui Minhai, Lam Wing Kee and Lui Por, are all associated with Mighty Current, a Hong Kong publisher, and Causeway Bay Books, the press' bookstore. The publisher is known for books critical of China's Communist regime, which are legal in Hong Kong but forbidden in mainland China.
"I have deeply reflected on what I have done and very much regret the illegal book trading I have carried out with Gui Minhai," Lui Por told Hong Kong's Phoenix Television. Gui Minhai admitted to altering the covers of the books and smuggling them into China.
The Financial Times notes that confessions on television are "an increasingly common propaganda tool for Chinese police," and often used to target journalists, lawyers and activists, some of whom are coerced into admitting crimes they did not commit.
Gui, a Swedish national, confessed in January to fleeing China after being paroled following a conviction for killing a student while driving under the influence. Lam Wing Kee, another of the booksellers who had disappeared, said that Gui's books were "fabricated" and contained false information about China. "They have generated lots of rumors in society and brought a bad influence," he said. "I deeply acknowledge my mistakes and am willing to be penalized."
Hong Kong Free Press reports that Gui appears to be the leader of the group. "The idea of turning myself in crossed my mind more than once but I never had the courage," Gui said. "I now know that these acts all seriously violated the law of China and I should receive punishment. I am very remorseful."
A fifth bookseller, Lee Bo, who is a British citizen, did not appear on the broadcast. He has previously said that he is aiding the investigation into Gui's books.
The arrest of the booksellers has alarmed journalists and activists in Hong Kong. Columnist Jason Ng said the disappearance of the booksellers left Hong Kong citizens cynical and despondent. "Every morning, Hong Kong people wake up to another news headline of utter absurdity," he said. "There is one clumsy lie covering another clumsy lie every day. And the plot gets more and more farfetched."
According to the television report, Cheung, Lam and Lui could be allowed to go back to Hong Kong as early as this week, although Gui and Lee are expected to remain jailed in China.