HONG KONG, Jan 2, 2016:
A Hong Kong employee of a publishing firm known for producing books critical of the Chinese government has gone missing, his wife said on Friday, following the earlier apparent disappearance of four colleagues.
It is the latest incident to fuel growing unease in Hong Kong at the erosion of freedoms in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, with fears that the five men may have been detained by Chinese authorities.
Lee Bo, the chief editor of a publisher which produces books on Chinese politics, was a colleague of the four others.
A source said Lee, 65, was last seen in Hong Kong on Wednesday at the publisher’s warehouse, which he is in charge of.
Lee’s wife Sophie Choi also said he was in Hong Kong on Wednesday but went missing that night.
“I started looking for him when he didn’t come home for dinner that night at around 7pm,” Choi told AFP.
“He called me that night at around 10pm to tell me that everything was all right,” Choi said.
But she said the number from which Li was calling her did not belong to him and originated from the neighbouring mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen.
Choi said she reported the case to Hong Kong police on Friday. Police said the incident had been listed as a “missing persons” case.
“It is a very difficult time for me… I’m not sure what has happened, these are not things that normal people know about,” Choi said.
The source told AFP that Lee was last seen in the publisher’s warehouse in Hong Kong at 5pm on Dec 30.
“Apparently he met somebody and subsequently disappeared. This is very shocking if it is true.”
Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain in 1997 under a “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement. It enjoys liberties not seen on the mainland, including freedom of the press and publication, but there are fears these are under threat.
When the four other publishers disappeared last autumn Lee had said he was a shareholder in the Mighty Current publishing company.
“I think (it has happened) probably because of publishing matters… political books banned on the mainland,” he told AFP at the time.
The other men who went missing are Gui Minhai, a Swedish national and co-owner of the Mighty Current publishing company. Local media said he failed to return from a holiday in Thailand in October.
The publishing company’s general manager Lui Bo, an employee Cheung Jiping and bookstore manager Lam Wing-kei are also reportedly missing after disappearing in southern China in October.
Rights groups had expressed concern at the previous disappearances, with Human Rights Watch saying there was a “concerted effort” by the mainland to prevent Chinese political books travelling from Hong Kong to China.
Hong Kong publisher Yao Wentian, who was due to release a dissident’s book about Chinese President Xi Jinping, was reported to have been detained for almost three months in January 2014.
In May 2014 Yao, then 73, was sentenced by a Chinese court to 10 years in jail for smuggling.