01/12/2016, 00.00
HONG KONG - CHINA
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Disappearance of booksellers embarrasses Beijing and splits Hong Kong Government

by John Ai
The five publishers, critical of the Chinese government, are now confirmed to be in China. But the government of the Territory seems unable to protect their rights. The population continues to protest and civil society demands "something be done". The incongruent defense of State newspapers.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Hong Kong leaders appear to be moving without any plan or coordination in attempts to manage the crisis that has erupted after the disappearance of the five booksellers, critical of the Beijing government.

The issue has been making headlines in international media since the beginning of 2016 and has awoken civil society in Hong Kong, still in turmoil, while also embarrassing the Communist regime in Beijing. The inconsistent defense of various Chinese state media only confirms the impasse.

Lee Bo, one of the owners of the Causeway Bay Bookshop, was the last to disappear. There has been no news of his fate since 30 December 2015. His four colleagues all disappeared between October and November.

At first, Lee's wife received at first a few calls from Shenzhen (South China), and immediately after a letter sent by fax. The author - who signed Lee Bo - claims he went to China "of his own will" to "cooperate in a police investigation".

However, Hong Kong customs controls and the border police have no record of their passage. Moreover, after receiving the fax, Lee’s wife withdrew the missing person’s report filed with the authorities. Lee has a British passport, and London has expressed "concern" about the case. Wang Yi, of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, responded that the publisher is "first and foremost a citizen of China".

In protest against this series of inconsistencies, thousands of Hong Kong citizens marched last Jan. 10, 2016 to the Office for Relations with Beijing. Anson Chan, a much loved former Secretary General, "strongly" asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to "keep his promises. One country, two systems ".

Since its return to the motherland in 1997, Hong Kong has enjoyed a special status that stipulates that the Territory should enjoy a particular legal protection for 50 years from that date (that is until 2047): on paper, Beijing may intervene only for urgent matters of defense or foreign policy. To protect citizens, there is a small Constitution, the "Basic Law", which guarantees the basic human rights: these include freedom of religion, speech, expression.

The pressure on the leaders of Hong Kong has forced the Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying, to make another statement. Under the law, Beijing has to communicate to Hong Kong within 14 days any action against one of its citizens. Today is the deadline - Lee Bo disappeared on Dec. 30, 2015 - but for Leung "we are not at a definitive point. Sometimes, the Chinese authorities need more time to respond, however, and the missing person’s report was filed on January 1 ".

The President of the Legislative Council Jasper Tsang Yok-sing was rather less diplomatic: "Our government must consider the possibility of urgently appealing to the Chinese authorities, who have to cooperate with our Departments to clarify the situation."

Lee Cheuk-yan, Democrat, said that the case of Lee Bo "is the worst fear of the citizens of Hong Kong. To disappear and reappear on the other side of the border, where our rights are not guaranteed at all. " The Global Times (the Communist Party’s  English-language newspaper) has published a series of editorials to refute the allegations of interference, terming them "malicious". One of the latest articles claims that Lee Bo was "known to have operated to target the Beijing government, and that this is a serious act that crosses borders”.

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