Another Hong Kong book store that sold political titles banned in China closed its doors this week in the wake of the suspicious disappearances of five booksellers in the former British colony.
A Hong Kong newspaper, meanwhile, quoted police in China’s Guangdong province as confirming that three of the five booksellers who had not been accounted for since disappearing last year were also being held in Guangdong, which borders Hong Kong.
1908 Books, a book store located in Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui that specialized in selling books banned in China, closed on Feb. 1, a source familiar with the matter told RFA’s Mandarin Service.
"The 1908 bookstore owner has not officially released the public announcement of its closure, but it was in fact closed on Feb. 1,” the source said.
“In recent years, it had few customers, and was operating at a loss,” added the source, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity.
Under pressure from the communist mainland, which took over Hong Kong in 1997 and promised the territory autonomy and no change to its policies for 50 years, Hong Kong’s tour remind the mainland tourists not to carry banned books or magazines back to China.
This was hurting business even before co-owners Lee Bo and Gui Minhai and three other staff of Causeway Books were snatched and taken back to China beginning late last year, he said.
“Many people are concerned whether the closure is related to Lee Bo and Gui Minhai. In fact after the Causeway Bay books incident, even fewer mainland people come to buy books. So it has a kind of impact," said the source.
“1908 is not as influential as Causeway Bay Books. It sells many banned books written by authors inside China, but published in Hong Kong,” he added.
Causeway Bay Books store manager Lee Bo, 65, was last seen at work on Dec. 30, while four of his associates, publisher Gui Minhai, general manager Lui Bo, and colleagues Cheung Jiping and Lam Wing-kei have gone missing since October.
There is no record of Lee Bo leaving Hong Kong, prompting fears that he was spirited across the internal immigration border by Chinese police, while Gui holds a Swedish passport and was apparently detained while on vacation in Thailand.
Three confirmed detained in China
Gui was paraded on state-run CCTV in January, "confessing" to having killed a woman in a hit-and-run car accident some years earlier.
Lee has repeatedly said he is "assisting in an investigation" as a witness and his wife Sophie Choi has declined to reveal his location, but many fear the couple is being manipulated by police to avoid harsher reprisals.
The South China Morning Post, an English-language daily, on Friday that Guangdong police confirmed that Lui Bo, Cheung Jiping and Lam Wing-kei were being held and investigated in mainland China.
The Guangdong Provincial Public Security Department disclosed on Thursday night that three colleagues were suspected to be involved in Gui’s case and were also “involved in illegal activities on the mainland,” the Post said.
“Criminal compulsory measures were imposed on them and they were under investigation,” the newspaper quoted Guangdong police as saying in a letter to their Hong Kong counterparts.
Concerns for Hong Kong's once-freewheeling publishing industry have been growing following a report last month in London's Sunday Times newspaper that the ruling Chinese Communist Party is explicitly targeting "forbidden books" from Hong Kong, which has traditionally enjoyed freedom of the press and of publication.
The report cited a leaked Communist Party document as saying that officials should aim to "wipe out banned publications at source." It said banned publications included pornographic material and "illegal" books.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Paul Eckert.