HONG KONG • The disappearance of five booksellers has sent shivers through Hong Kong as anxiety grows that Chinese control over the city is tightening.
Bookshops are removing political works from their shelves, while publishers and shopowners selling titles banned in mainland China told Agence France-Presse that they now feel under threat.
For instance, stores in the mainstream Page One chain have removed controversial political titles. "We used to sell them but we don't do it any more. We have received instructions that we don't," a source from the chain told AFP.
Another shopkeeper said: "Some have been returned (to distributors) and some have been taken off the shelves."
ACTING UNDER ORDERS
We used to sell them but we don't do it any more. We have received instructions that we don't.
A SOURCE FROM THE PAGE ONE CHAIN OF BOOKSTORES, on the removal of controversial political titles.
The five missing men all worked for publishing house Mighty Current, known for books critical of the Chinese government, and are feared to have been detained by the mainland authorities.
But it is the latest disappearance that has triggered the most outrage.
Publisher Lee Bo, 65, was last seen in Hong Kong on Dec 30 - the only one of the five men to have disappeared in his home city.
The other four men are believed to have gone missing when they were visiting southern China and Thailand.
Mr Paul Tang, owner of the city's People's Recreation Community bookstore, which sells titles banned on the mainland, told AFP: "We need to have these books to inspire those who haven't had a chance to receive information. But if one day, someone comes to me and says my personal safety will be affected if I continue to do this, I will have no option and quit."
Chinese University of Hong Kong professor Willy Lam told Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) yesterday that mainland security agents threatened at least two other Hong Kong publishers besides Mighty Current over putting out books on mainland political intrigue.
He said the agents threatened the publishers about their personal safety during visits to their Hong Kong offices, RTHK reported. In one case, a set of books had already been printed, and the agents paid HK$1 million (S$182,000) to have them destroyed.
Furious pro-democracy lawmakers, activists and residents, who believe Mr Lee was kidnapped by mainland authorities, said Beijing is trampling on the "one country, two systems" deal under which Hong Kong has been governed since it was handed back to China by Britain in 1997.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi did not reply directly when asked at a press conference with visiting British counterpart Philip Hammond on Tuesday if China had detained the Mighty Current staff.
But Mr Wang said China's policy towards Hong Kong remained "unchanged".
Mr Lee's wife, Ms Sophie Choi, who first raised the alarm after his disappearance, on Tuesday said she now believed her husband had tra-velled to the mainland voluntarily.