Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Hong Kong Booksellers Detained for 'Illegal Book Trading'

Shelf Awareness

On Sunday, four of the five Hong Kong booksellers who disappeared in October, sparking protests from the international book community, appeared on Chinese TV, saying they had been detained for "illegal book trading" for selling 4,000 "unauthorized" books to 380 customers in mainland China, BBC News reported. Gui Minhai, Lui Bo, Lam Wingkei and Cheung Jiping gave details of their alleged offenses. The fifth detainee, British national Lee Bo, was not shown.

The men are employees of the publishing company Mighty Current and its Causeway Bay Bookstore. Mighty Current is known for publishing books critical of the Chinese leadership. The company's books are sold by the thousands at the Hong Kong airport and other locations, including its bookstore in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay neighborhood. They are particularly popular with tourists from mainland China, where such books are banned.

During their appearance on television, Gui, a Swedish national, said he had concealed the books in bags to "evade" customs and was identified by the other detainees as having been in charge of the operation. Lui said: "I have deeply reflected on what I have done and very much regret the illegal book trading I have carried out with Gui Minhai." Lam said the books' content had been "fabricated.... They were downloaded from the Internet, and were pieced together from magazines. They have generated lots of rumors in society and brought a bad influence." BBC News noted that "public confessions have long been a part of China's criminal law, but experts say many confessions are forced."

Citing police sources, Phoenix TV said Lam, Lui and Cheung had shown a "good attitude" by confessing and might be allowed to return to Hong Kong this week while they await trial. Gui, who is expected to remain in China, "had appeared on Chinese TV in January saying he voluntarily handed himself over to the authorities over a fatal drink-driving incident more than a decade ago," BBC News reported.

The Los Angeles Times noted that the arrest of the booksellers "has alarmed journalists and activists in Hong Kong. Columnist Jason Ng said the disappearance of the booksellers left Hong Kong citizens cynical and despondent. 'Every morning, Hong Kong people wake up to another news headline of utter absurdity,' he said. 'There is one clumsy lie covering another clumsy lie every day. And the plot gets more and more farfetched.' 

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