Hong Kong (AFP) – A Hong Kong employee of a publishing firm known for producing books critical of the Chinese government has gone missing, his wife said 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 Wednesday but went missing that night.
“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.