All five of the Hong Kong-Based publishers and booksellers who appeared in police detention in China after disappearing from Hong Kong or Thailand have been interviewed by Phoenix Television. Mighty Current publisher Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen who disappeared while on vacation in Thailand, said that he had illegally imported books into China for sale. Three of his colleagues also appeared on Phoenix saying they had helped Gui with his book sales. Gui had earlier appeared on CCTV “confessing” to having returned to China voluntarily in order to turn himself in for a decades-old hit-and-run charge. His family and friends believed his public confession had been coerced and that he and his colleagues had been forced back to China by Chinese security. From Austin Ramzy at The New York Times:
Mr. Gui was shown on Phoenix Television, a broadcaster based in Hong Kong, on Sunday night saying that he had circumvented China’s strict rules on importing books, in part by placing shipments in bags that could not be X-rayed. He also said that he had forged documents from Sweden to apply for his Chinese driver’s license.
The Phoenix report included interviews with another co-owner, Lu Bo, and two employees, Lin Rongji and Zhang Zhiping, who said they had helped Mr. Gui with the banned book sales. The three men were detained in Guangdong Province in October.
[…] The Paper, a state news outlet based in Shanghai, reported on Sunday that the police officials handling the case had said that because Mr. Lin, Mr. Lu and Mr. Zhang had “a relatively good attitude in admitting their crimes,” there was a possibility that they could soon be released to return to Hong Kong.
But Mr. Gui was not named as a candidate for release, and his admission to the book shipments indicated that he might be charged with new crimes. Since October 2014, the publishing house has shipped about 4,000 books to 380 people in 28 Chinese provinces and regions, The Paper reported, citing investigators. [Source]
Four of the men, Gui Minhai, Lui Por, Cheung Chi-ping and Lam Wing-kee, gave details of their alleged offences to Phoenix Television on Sunday night.
“I have deeply reflected on what I have done and very much regret the illegal book trading I have carried out with Gui Minhai,” said Lui Por in the Phoenix TV report.
In a four-minute report that involved exclusive interviews with the four, they confessed to selling “unauthorized” books in China via an online platform and evading customs inspections to deliver some 4,000 books to 380 customers since October 2014.
Gui said he’d altered and obscured the covers of the Hong Kong-printed books with nylon bags to “evade” customs security checks and was singled out by the others as the mastermind. The group had also opened a bank account in China to make payments. [Source]
The fifth detained Mighty Current press employee is Lee Bo, who had earlier told his wife that he had traveled to China of his own free will, following his disappearance in Hong Kong, despite the fact that he had not taken his travel documents and did not appear to pass through normal customs channels. Lee holds a British passport. Hong Kong police met with Lee before he appeared in a Phoenix interview. From AP:
Hong Kong police also said in a news release late Monday that they had met another person linked to the Mighty Current case, the editor Lee Bo, at a guesthouse in the mainland, where Lee told them he was voluntarily assisting a Chinese investigation into Gui but refused to disclose other details.
Lee, a British citizen, disappeared on Dec. 30, and many suspect he was abducted by mainland Chinese security agents operating in Hong Kong, which would be a breach of the “one country, two systems” principle Beijing agreed to when it took control of the city from Britain in 1997.
Saying he was “free and safe,” Lee asked the Hong Kong police to cancel his missing persons case and stated that he did not require further assistance from the territory’s government, according to the Hong Kong police department, which added that it is still making inquiries about the other booksellers. [Source]
In his interview with Phoenix, Lee reasserted the story he had told his wife:
In the television interview, Lee said he had “resorted to illegal immigration” to get to the mainland as he did not want to draw attention to his visit. “The reason I went to the mainland was to cooperate in a judicial investigation,” he said.
Previous letters purportedly sent by Lee had said he was “assisting” Chinese authorities but their legitimacy was widely questioned by politicians, residents and rights groups. [Source]
Karen Cheung & Tom Grundy at Hong Kong Free Press have more on Lee’s comments:
“A lot of people also made a huge fuss with the issue of UK residency, and it has become complicated. Therefore I have decided to give up my right to reside in the UK. My wife has agreed to this,” he said, speaking in Cantonese on the Phoenix TV news program.
[…] “After what happened to Mighty Current, I wanted to secretly go to the mainland to resolve whatever issues there were with the company and then secretly go back to Hong Kong,” he said in the interview. “I came to the mainland to assist with the judicial investigation, and I had to incriminate some people. I was really scared that if these people found out, they will cause harm to me and my family, so I didn’t want anyone to know, and I didn’t want to leave any immigration records. So I chose to smuggle [to the mainland].” [Source]
The detentions of the five publishers, possibly at the behest of Chinese security while they were in Hong Kong or Thailand, has raised fears about China’s efforts to carry out renditions of citizens who have criticized the government. A Mighty Current publishing house is known for its titles portraying salacious stories of China’s political elite.