MIRANDA PAK WRITES – The U.S. this week (Feb. 2) joined calls for Chinese authorities to release five Hong Kong booksellers whose main crime appears to have been embarrassing Communist Party officials. What’s proving the bigger embarrassment is that no one doubts it is Beijing behind the kidnapping/detentions.

Since October, five people — an editor, two employees, and two co-owners – associated with the Mighty Current publishing house have been “disappeared,” four while travelling abroad and a fifth in what looks to have been an on-island snatch-and-grab.

Mighty Current is best known for publishing works on scandals involving Communist Party officials, works popular with Hong Kong readers but banned on the mainland.

Recently, one of the five resurfaced on a China Central Television (CCTV) broadcast, where he confessed to a decade-old crime. Gui MinHai, who disappeared from Thailand, was said to have voluntarily turned himself into the authorities for a 2004 car accident that allegedly resulted in a death.

After Gui’s televised confession, his daughter, Angela, said she had never heard of this incident and that Gui would not have voluntarily returned to China without telling her.

Lee Bo was the latest of the five to go missing. Lee disappeared December 30 when he went to a Hong Kong warehouse to pick up books and never returned. Lee was the only bookseller who disappeared while still in Hong Kong.

Shortly after going missing, Lee made a phone call back to his wife saying he was okay and had gone to mainland China. The Chinese police confirmed on January 18 that Lee was in fact in China, but did not say how he got there without Hong Kong immigration knowing.

Lee may also be charged with blackmail as he may have blackmailed some Chinese celebrities into paying him using his knowledge of damaging information about their lives. If charged, Lee may be sentenced to three to ten years in jail under Chinese law.

Lee’s disappearance and the lack of information regarding the investigation prompted about 6,000 people in January to take to the streets of Hong Kong in protest. They rallied outside of government headquarters with banners that said “Release Hong Kong Booksellers Now!”

Also as a result of the booksellers disappearing, some book vendors and publishers have pulled books that have adverse comments about Beijing’s leaders from their shelves.

Apart from Lee Bo and Gui Min Hai, the other three missing booksellers also turned up in China. The Chinese police said that as of the week of February 4, they are indeed holding the three other booksellers, Lui Por, Cheung Chi-ping and Lam Wing-kee, who all went missing last year. Lui, Cheung, and Lam are suspected to have been involved in Gui’s case.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond wrote that “Lee Bo… was probably taken to China against his will” And with China responding that Britain should stop interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs. With responses and statements such as these, would the Hong Kong people ever trust China again?