By: Our Correspondent

The disappearance of four Hong Kong-based pro-democracy publishers from a vacation home in Thailand, apparently after being kidnaped by Chinese police in October, is alarming on several different levels – that Beijing has no problems kidnapping critics on foreign soil and that Hong Kong may no longer be a free press sanctuary.

It is also an indication of how reluctant Hong Kong’s government is to defend the rights of intellectuals and a free press in the territory when Beijing comes calling. The only response* to Asia Sentinel’s queries to the office of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying  was to shunt the questions to the Wan Chai police station, which replied two days later that the men were classified as “missing persons.”

That is a bad precedent. There have been criminal cases like that of Cheung Tze-keung,  who earned the name of “Big Spender” and who was executed in 1998 in Guangzhou after committing a series of spectacular kidnappings in Hong Kong — not the mainland.  Although Big Spender was a notorious gangster,  even then, a year after the handover of the territory to China, there were concerns that China was far too willing to violate the “one-country, two-systems” doctrine.  But that was a criminal case. This one involves freedom to publish views critical of the government.

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Big spender gets a bullet in the back of the head

“It seems the machinery of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ has crossed the Shenzhen River,” said Willy Lam, a longtime former journalist and political analyst. “In addition to liberal, pro-democracy academics in Hong Kong’s universities, state security personnel are also targeting publishers and even bookstore operators.”

Tom Grundy, the editor and publisher of the newly launched Hong Kong Free Press, an independent local English-language news website that has been barred from coverage of government press events, expressed fears that, without a strong Hong Kong government response, any opposition journalists from Hong Kong traveling to territories friendly to Beijing could be targeted. 

Thais Apparently Agree to Kidnap Move

Thailand is just such a place, with Chinese police apparently collecting up the four at the Pattaya flat of Gui Minhai, a mainland-born Swedish national and co-owner of Sage Communications and three others without interference.  It is the second time in recent months that the government, headed by junta leader-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, has apparently allowed Chinese police to remove people the Chinese don’t like from its soil.

In July the Thais disregarded widespread international criticism to send back 109 ethnic Uighur refugees against their will and now has chosen to do it again. The Uighurs are a Muslim minority in the restive Xinjiang region of China who have long complained about harsh cultural and religious suppression as well as economic marginalization under Chinese rule. 

The missing book publishers, besides Gui, also known as Ah-Hai, all Hong Kong residents, are Lui Bo, the subsidiary Mighty Current general manager, the business manager, Cheung Jiping, and Lam Wing-kei, the bookstore’s manager.  Lui, Cheung and Lam flew to Thailand in October to meet with Gui, who maintains a vacation flat in Pattaya, south of Bangkok. Gui was last heard of when he emailed printers on Oct. 15 asking them to get ready for a new book. 

Two other employees of the publishing venture have also been arrested across the border from Hong Kong in Shenzhen.