Hong Kong booksellers confess to 'illegal book trading'

Hong Kong booksellers confess to 'illegal book trading'

HONG KONG - Four Hong Kong booksellers known for titles critical of Beijing, who have been detained in China in a case that shocked their home city, have confessed on television to smuggling books into the mainland.

In individual interviews broadcast on Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV channel late Sunday, the sombre foursome - who are under criminal investigation in China - admitted to participating what they said was a banned trade.

Their case has heightened fears of increasing mainland Chinese interference in semi-autonomous Hong Kong and sparked international protests.

"This way (of publishing) is not permitted by relevant Chinese authorities," said bookseller Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen, who failed to return to Hong Kong from a holiday in Thailand in October.

He said the booksellers had "explored ways to circumvent official inspections in China", including changing the books' covers or concealing them in bags.

The men all worked for the Mighty Current publishing house in Hong Kong, which produced salacious titles about political intrigue and love affairs at the highest levels of Chinese politics.

Gui had already appeared on television in China in January confessing involvement in a fatal driving accident years ago.

In their first appearance since they were detained, fellow booksellers Cheung Chi-ping, Lui Por and Lam Wing-kee blamed the company's illegal book trade on Gui.

A tearful Cheung added that he was "willing to face punishment in accordance with the law".

Cheung, Lui and Lam were last seen in southern mainland cities before disappearing in October.

Chinese authorities confirmed earlier this month they were under investigation.

Mainland Chinese news outlet Paper.cn said Cheung, Lui and Lam may "return to Hong Kong in the near future" on bail pending trial because they "confessed with good attitudes", citing information from law enforcers.

The report added that since October 2014, 4,000 illegal books had been mailed to 380 mainland buyers by the company.


A fifth bookseller from the company who also disappeared, Lee Bo, met Hong Kong police and immigration officials at a guesthouse on the mainland Monday, according to a Hong Kong police statement.

Lee's case sparked the biggest backlash as he disappeared in December in Hong Kong itself, where mainland law enforcers are banned from operating. There was no immigration record of his departure from Hong Kong.

Hong Kong police have long been seeking access to check claims in letters he purportedly wrote, that he was on the mainland voluntarily "assisting" with investigations.

Britain said in February it believed Lee, a British passport-holder, had been "involuntarily removed to the mainland" in what it called a "serious breach" of an agreement with Beijing before the city was handed back to China in 1997.

That agreement safeguards free speech and other freedoms in the city for 50 years but there are fears they are under threat as China seeks to stamp its authority on the territory.

The European Parliament has called for all five to be immediately released.

Police said Lee told them he returned to the mainland "by his own means voluntarily" and was not abducted, but he refused to disclose details.

He told police he was "free and safe" and assisting an investigation "into a case relating to a person surnamed Gui" and would return to Hong Kong when the matter was resolved.

Lee said he did not need help from the Hong Kong government but asked police not to disclose where he was staying.

Police in their statement said they would continue to follow up on the case and were seeking more information from mainland police about Gui and the three others.

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