Disappearance of Hong Kong booksellers ‘has dealt huge blow to publishers of sensitive books’
New Century Press founder speaks out as 71-page report from advocacy group PEN America urges governments to use diplomatic means to ensure no repeat incidents
The disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers later found to have been detained on the mainland has dealt a great blow to city publishers who sell politically sensitive books that are banned across the border, an influential publisher says.
The rare comments from Bao Pu, founder of New Century Press, a publisher of banned books, came as freedom of speech advocacy group PEN America released a 71-page report on Saturday on the missing booksellers associated with a bookstore in Causeway Bay under the Mighty Current publishing company.
The report, which looks into the case’s timeline, political background and aftermath of the saga, says the case has created an atmosphere of uncertainty among other similar publishers, making them less willing to publish banned books. It called for the international community to press mainland China into stopping questionable detentions.
“[The case] has dealt a huge blow to publishers based in Hong Kong,” Bao, who rarely speaks publically, said. “Many readers from the mainland have stopped buying these books because they cannot bring the books across the border any more. Our businesses have dropped by a lot.”
Speaking after the report’s launching press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Bao, a PEN member and son of Bao Tong, policy secretary to deposed Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang, said he would continue to publish books in Hong Kong.
“You need to accept risks to do publishing,” Bao said. “I believe the level of risk is still acceptable in Hong Kong.”
Bao said he had been communicating with China’s General Administration of Press and Publication “on different levels”, although he did not know the detailed identity of those who spoke to him.
Angela Gui, daughter of Gui Minhai, the only one of the five booksellers yet to be released by mainland authorities, appeared during the press conference via pre-recorded video. She said she could not attend in person because she was advised not to travel to Asia for safety reasons.
“[The report] is the most comprehensive piece of information on the Causeway Bay bookstore disappearances to date,” Gui said. “I sincerely hope that it will be used to affect change.”
The elder Gui, a Swedish national, disappeared from his home in Pattaya, Thailand, in October last year, before resurfacing on the mainland and making confessions on state TV.
Three of Gui’s colleagues – Lam Wing-kee, Cheung Chi-ping and Lui Por – went missing on the mainland in the same month, while another, Lee Po, a British citizen, disappeared from Hong Kong. All four have either been released on the mainland or returned to Hong Kong.
The disappearance of the five sparked widespread speculation that they had been abducted by mainland agents acting illegally, as Lee’s travel documents were found in Hong Kong after he had been detained by mainland authorities.
The report urged the British and Swedish governments, as well as the United Nations, to publicly condemn China, press Beijing to release Gui and commit to high-level engagement with China on human rights issues.
Lam Wing-kee, who also spoke at the conference, said a series of events, including Beijing’s looming interpretation of the Basic Law to stop two localist lawmakers from taking their seats, showed that the Hong Kong government had been reduced to Beijing’s pawn and that the central government wanted to control the city as soon as possible. He called for Hongkongers to take to the streets on Sunday to voice their opposition to Beijing’s interference.