By: Our Correspondent

Hong Kong’s autonomy has taken another dive with a major threat to free speech. The territory’s citizens now find themselves subject to kidnap by official thugs from the mainland under mysterious circumstances.

The territory’s government is highly embarrassed and makes noises about finding out what may have happened but has gone no further than say the persons have been reported missing and warning against speculation as to their fate.

The latest is the most obvious case of illegal actions within Hong Kong’s jurisdiction and arguably the most disturbing. Of the previous four Hong Kong citizens who disappeared, three were netted in Shenzhen just across the border, while the fourth was in Thailand. The latest kidnapping, apparently the first on Hong Kong soil, is particularly alarming.

The latest is Lee Bo, a 65-year old man, vanished from the city on Dec. 30. There was no official record of his leaving the territory but, according to his wife, he subsequently phoned her, apparently from Shenzhen. Speaking in Mandarin rather than his usual Cantonese, he told her he was assisting an investigation. The wife heard a person in the background suggesting there would be no problem if he cooperated.

Publisher of books critical of China

Lee, a part owner of the small company, is the fifth person involved with it to have vanished in recent weeks. Its books, mostly highly critical of the Communist party and its leaders, and detailing facts and gossip about their wealth and private lives have attracted many mainland buyers. Among subjects to have been addressed in the past are the sexual adventures of disgraced politburo member Bo Xilai. Another recent one is entitled The Collapse of Xi Jinping in 2017. Legal in Hong Kong, they are banned on the mainland.

Three disappeared when separately visiting Shenzhen in October. Then in November the general manager Gui Minhai, a mainland-born Swedish national, vanished while visiting Thailand where he had an apartment at the seaside resort of Pattaya. In the Thai case the kidnap may have been assisted by the local authorities who recently cooperated with http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/kidnapped-hongkong-publishers-alarming-threat-free-speech/China in sending Uighur refugees from China back to China in contravention of international rules on treatment of refugees.

In the Thai case, investigation by the British newspaper The Guardian indicated that Chinese speaking men were involved in his disappearance and subsequent entry to his apartment to see his computer. A series of phone calls indicated that the Chinese men had proceeded to Poipet on the Cambodian border, where border officials are notoriously corrupt.

The Hong Kong government may be correct in saying it does not know anything about the “missing” persons but it appears not to want to know. In the latest case its own security intelligence is sorely lacking, or has simply been taken over by persons taking orders from Beijing’s Liaison Office or one of its many covert arms in Hong Kong. It does not want to know because if it did it would be obliged to react.

Nor is it probable that Chinese authorities would not know given the degree or organisation involved in the disappearances. A few influential individuals with a grudge again the publishing house for revealing dirty secrets might have been plausible in the first instance but could no longer be given the scale of operations and the publicity the cases have now received.

Hong Kong’s leaders are equally determined not to do anything which would embarrass Beijing. They owe their positions to not standing up for Hong Kong’s interests. Chief Executive C.Y. Leung talks of little other than the need for closer integration with the mainland. Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam is a lifelong bureaucrat who is so weak that she cannot even implement laws which inconvenience the Heung Yee Kuk, a feudal organization with tentacles into the heart of the administration which makes a mockery of the land laws in the New Territories.

The episode is just one of many which made 2015 Hong Kong’s darkest year for autonomy and the rule of law since the 1997 handover. Brooking no criticism at home, the increasingly autocratic rule of Xi is now extending to taking aim at those beyond its borders. Xi’s Beijing is above the law.  For those practicing independent journalism and publishing in what had been perceived to be a haven safe from interference, it is ominous indeed.