A British citizen has become the latest bookseller to go missing in Hong Kong, CNN reports. Lee Bo, who co-owns a bookstore associated with a publisher of books critical of the Chinese government, disappeared last week.
Lee is the fifth bookseller from Causeway Bay Books, associated with the publisher Mighty Current, who have disappeared since October.
Lee’s wife reported him missing to Hong Kong authorities last week, but she attempted to cancel the report on Monday after one of Lee’s colleagues received a fax purportedly from the bookseller.
The BBC reports that the letter read in part: “I am very well. Everything is fine. And please do look after the bookstore.” Lee’s wife said the letter was in his handwriting.
Albert Ho, a Hong Kong politician who supports democracy, told CNN that he believes Lee was kidnapped. “It’s a forced disappearance,” he said. “All those who have disappeared are related to the Causeway Bay bookshop and this bookshop was famous, not only for the sale, but also for the publication and circulation of a series of sensitive books.”
It’s common for Hong Kong bookstores to sell books critical of the Chinese government, CNN reports, which are generally banned in mainland China.
CNN’s Ivan Watson spoke with Paul Tang, the owner of People’s Bookstore in Hong Kong, who says that half his inventory consists of books not allowed in China. Chinese travelers shop freely in Hong Kong bookstores for books they can’t get on the mainland.
“The content of the banned books that Mighty Current publish are mainly gossip and scandals,” Tang said. “Very juicy!”
The BBC reports that there is speculation that the mens’ disappearance may be connected to a planned book about an alleged mistress of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Since 1997, Hong Kong has been a dependent territory of China. Residents of the former British colony have more rights than Chinese citizens who live on the mainland, including freedom of the press.
But the disappearance of the booksellers might be having a chilling effect on Hong Kong bookstores. The South China Morning Post reports that one bookstore chain began removing books critical of the Chinese government after the four Hong Kong booksellers went missing last year.
An employee of Page One, an English-language bookstore chain with eight Hong Kong locations, told a reporter that employees were instructed to remove certain books from their stock. “We were told to take all politically sensitive books off the shelves in late November,” the bookseller said. “The manager did not tell us the reason, but said Page One would no longer sell banned books ever again.”