NEW YORK—The mysterious disappearances of five men associated with a Hong Kong publisher known for its scathing exposés of Chinese officials drive increasing concern for the fading autonomy of the territory’s press and publishing industry, PEN American Center said in a statement. 

On Wednesday, December 30, publisher Lee Bo left for his company’s storage warehouse and never returned, according to statements his wife gave to the press. Lee’s business partner Gui Minhai, a major shareholder in the Hong Kong-based publisher Mighty Current, had previously vanished from his beach house in Thailand on October 17. Two other Mighty Current employees were last seen in China at around the same time, and a third, who manages the publisher’s bookstore, also disappeared from Hong Kong in October. All of the men have made contact with their families or friends since their disappearances, but little else is known about their current whereabouts, creating serious concerns about their safety.

Mighty Current is known in Hong Kong for producing and selling books critical of the Chinese government. Agence France-Presse and the Washington Post reported that the publishing house may have been working on a new book about a former girlfriend or mistress of Chinese President Xi Jinping when Gui first went missing.

“Beijing casts a long shadow over the independent press and publishing industry in Hong Kong, where the space for free expression has narrowed rapidly in the last several years,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN American Center. “The disappearance of these five men—reminiscent of the well-known Chinese practice of ‘inviting dissidents to tea’—reads as a warning to all who dare criticize mainland leadership.”

Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers have expressed concern about Beijing’s role in the disappearances. The 1997 agreement governing Hong Kong ‘s return to Chinese control forbids mainland police from official operations on the island. Beijing has so far refused to comment on the disappearances.

In January 2015, PEN American Center released the report Threatened Harbor: Encroachments on Press Freedom in Hong Kong, bringing together news reports, first-person commentary, and legal precedent to expose the shrinking environment for free expression in the territory.

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Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 4,300 U.S. writers working to breakdown barriers to free expression worldwide. www.PEN.org

CONTACT
Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: sedkins@pen.org, +1 646 779 4830