Both men have since denied any abduction occurred, but the email to Gui’s daughter raises concerns about the involvement of mainland authorities in the sudden disappearances of Lee, Gui and three of their colleagues from Thailand and Hong Kong, and their later re-appearance on the mainland.
The five booksellers published books that were highly critical of the Chinese Community Party and its officials, including President Xi Jinping. Under Hong Kong law, they were free to publish, but Hong Kongers suspect mainland authorities — contrary to treaty agreements — scooped up the five men surreptitiously.
Gui was vacationing in Pattaya, Thailand, at the time of his disappearance in October. In his Nov. 10 email to Gui’s daughter, published by the Morning Post today, he says he feared Gui had been arrested by Chinese police.
I write to you concerning the whereabouts of Michael. I wonder if you have known that he has been missing for more than 20 days, we fear that he was taken by special agents from China for political reasons.
We last talked to Michael by email on 15 October, and after that day, nobody could contact him. He was then staying in his apartment in Thailand. According to [Gui’s wife]’s words told by the watchman of the building, he left the apartment with several men who claimed to be his friends.
Gui, who is a Swedish citizen, appeared on Chinese national TV in January, saying he had voluntarily returned to China to face prosecution for a traffic accident that had occurred in 2004. His wife has met with him in Shenzhen, but has not given any details to the press about her husband’s mysterious disappearance.
Lee, who had British citizenship until he recently relinquished it, disappeared from Hong Kong in late December. He has since stated he crossed over to the mainland secretly to “aid in an investigation.” Observers wonder how it would be possible, given the tight border controls between the Hong Kong SAR and mainland Guangdong province.
The three other booksellers disappeared about the same time as Gui, while they were on the mainland. They have since been charged with selling “banned books” in Guangdong. Two have returned to Hong Kong.
Under the terms of the Basic Law agreement pertaining to the return of Hong Kong from British rule to China in 1997, Chinese police have no jurisdiction in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) and no authority to arrest Hong Kong citizens outside of mainland China. The Basic Law also guarantees Hong Kong’s rights of free speech and free press will be preserved.
Hong Kongers are understandably worried that mainland authorities are willing to violate the Basic Law when it suits them, but Hong Kong officials say there is no evidence of cross-border violations. Mainland response has been limited saying in effect, “this is an internal Chinese matter. Please mind your own business.”
The Morning Post has also reported that 45,000 books at the booksellers’ shop in Causeway Bay have been destroyed.