Emails suggest Hong Kong booksellers were abducted

Claims indicate publishers were taken by Chinese security officials for ‘political reasons’

 Graffiti of the portrait of Lee Bo, with the Chinese words saying “Who’s afraid of Lee Bo’’ on the wall at Mongkok on  in Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Mr Lee in an email  said he feared his colleague Gui Minhai had been taken  “for political reasons”. Photograph: Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images

Graffiti of the portrait of Lee Bo, with the Chinese words saying “Who’s afraid of Lee Bo’’ on the wall at Mongkok on in Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Mr Lee in an email said he feared his colleague Gui Minhai had been taken “for political reasons”. Photograph: Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images

 

New questions have emerged over a group of five missing Hong Kong publishers of controversial books who are thought to have been abducted and taken to Beijing for selling literature banned in mainland China.

The booksellers later reappeared in mainland China helping police with inquiries, then made TV appearances in which they said they had not been taken across the border illegally.

However, according to an email sent by one of the booksellers, Lee Bo, there was indeed a political aspect to the case as Mr Lee said he feared his colleague Gui Minhai, a Swedish national, had been taken by Chinese security officials “for political reasons”.

The email was sent to Mr Gui’s daughter Angela, which was released in local media. Mr Lee disappeared himself 10 days later.

The disappearances of the two men, along with three others who worked at the Causeway Bay bookshop they ran that specialised in gossipy books critical of the Communist Party, sparked fears they had been taken across the border by Chinese security forces.

The Hong Kong government insists that there is no evidence of Chinese authorities breaching Hong Kong’s basic law, a series of rules that gives Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy.

However, the emails contradict comments that Mr Gui made on Chinese state TV, saying he had handed himself in voluntarily over a 2004 drunk driving case, in what appeared to be scripted comments.

“I definitely think that he was pressured to say the things that he said. Because I have never heard of these things, these claims at all,” his daughter Angela Gui told the South China Morning Post.

Mr Lee also made a TV confession. He insisted he had not been kidnapped but had sneaked into China illegally to help with an investigation. Mainland authorities were treating him well.

However, these comments are not borne out by the earlier emails.

“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,” the email reads, referring to Mr Gui’s English name, according to the South China Morning Post newspaper.

Two of Mr Lee’s colleagues returned to Hong Kong last weekend and have refused to discuss their cases. They have both dismissed outstanding missing person reports.

Mr Lee is a British citizen and the British foreign office said in a report last month that it was likely he had been “involuntarily removed” to mainland China from Hong Kong. He has since said he plans to revoke his UK citizenship.