Author and publishing organisations worldwide have banded together to urge the United States' government to investigate the disappearances of five missing Hong Kong (HK) publishers.
The European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF), has issued a statement on behalf of The American Booksellers Association (ABA), the Association of American Publishers (AAP), the Authors Guild (AG), and PEN American Center (PEN), expressing the organisations' "extreme concern" over news reports. It called for the "immediate release" of the publishers "if they are in custody", reminding China of its promise to protect freedom of press in HK.
Four employees from publishing company Mighty Current and its bookshop, the Causeway Bay Bookstore, went missing mid-October, with a fifth member of staff, Lee Bo, reported missing on 1st January.
Brussels called the "continuing lack of information" about the "well-being and whereabouts" of the five HK residents - two of which, it noted, are EU citizens - "extremely worrying" on Friday (8th January). It emerged that Lee is a British citizen, prompting "urgent" enquiries from the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, during an official visit to Beijing; while the owner of the publishing house, Gui Minhai, is a China-born Swedish national.
Mighty Current publishing, along with its affiliated Causeway Bookstore, were active in distributing banned books critical of political figures in mainland China. As a reaction, Singapore book chain Page One has stopped selling the "politically senstive" tomes, despite their popularity.
English PEN, meanwhile, has called on the Chinese authorities on Wednesday (6th January) to reveal whether they are holding the five and, if so, to allow them "immediate and regular access to their families and lawyers of their choosing". It said: "If they are being held solely on account of the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, they should also be released immediately and unconditionally".
Torner, executive director of PEN International, added: "We know that China has all too often resorted to enforced disappearances to pressure critical voices to recant or ‘confess’ to alleged ‘offences’ when they have merely been expressing themselves freely. The authorities must come clean as to whether or not they are holding any or all of these five and release them if they are held in connection with their freedom of expression."
The European and International Booksellers Federation's statement read: "It is widely believed in Hong Kong and abroad that the missing booksellers have been taken into custody by Chinese authorities. Lee and several of the other missing men have called their families from China. Lee told his wife he was assisting the authorities with an investigation. The Chinese government has neither confirmed nor denied that the men are in China. However, Global Times, a Communist Party publication in China, recently published an editorial accusing Mighty Current of "stirring up troubles on the mainland."
A spokesperson for the EIBF added: "ABA, AAP, AG, EIBF and PEN urge the Chinese government to explain the disappearance of the Hong Kong booksellers. If they are in custody, we call for their immediate release. When Great Britain relinquished control of Hong Kong in 1997, China promised to protect freedom of press there for 50 years. The summary abduction of men who are engaged in the publication and sale of books would be a very serious violation of press freedom and would have a profoundly chilling effect on free speech in Hong Kong.
"We also urge the United States government to investigate the circumstances of these disappearances and to assist in the release of the men."