Five men connected with Hong Kong publisher Mighty Wind and its bookstore, Causeway Bay Books, have disappeared from Hong Kong and Thailand in recent months, allegedly taken to Shenzhen, China, although their actual whereabouts are unknown.
The abductions are worrying Hong Kongers and have caught the attention of international media. As observers think Chinese officials are involved, the international community sees the matter as a severe test of freedom of expression in Hong Kong and of the “one country, two systems” policy.
The Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the Chinese Communist Party, has said that some books published in Hong Kong have smeared the reputation of party leaders, confirming that the two firms are in trouble for having insulted the leadership in Beijing.
Several media outlets have said the firms might have angered China by preparing a book about Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) love life, and that China therefore turned to Hong Kong organized crime to kidnap the shop’s shareholders and staff.
Civilized countries have clear laws protecting freedom of expression, and their governments and politicians are very tolerant — these are cornerstones of democratic and civilized societies. Once freedom of expression is violated, oversight of the political system and checks and balances disappear, and anti-corruption mechanisms and the public’s ideas and actions are severely restricted as fear creeps into every corner of society.
Scandals involving politicians in democracies occur on a daily basis, and anyone who wants to enter politics must accept public scrutiny. Regardless of the contents of the books published by Mighty Wind, kidnapping and detaining people linked to it and its store are wrong. If these actions were sanctioned by the Chinese government, that would be even more unforgivable, as it would mean that the government has gone beyond the law to exact private revenge on citizens, which is a violation of democracy and the rule of law that cannot be tolerated in civilized society.
Today is the anniversary of the attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo, and two of the attackers who killed 11 of the magazine’s staff and a police officer are still on the loose. Even if one does not agree with Charlie Hebdo’s methods or standards, the attack was condemned across the world, and rather than disappearing, the magazine is still around and has received a great deal of international attention.
When Chinese-American writer Henry Liu (劉宜良), who also went under the pseudonym Chiang Nan (江南), published a biography of then-president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), the Military Intelligence Bureau sent members of the Bamboo Union gang to the US to assassinate him. The episode is a dark chapter in Taiwan’s history, and although it was never determined conclusively whether the assassination occurred at the behest of Chiang or if his subordinates acted independently, the Chiang Nan case, as it has come to be known, is to forever tarnish Chiang’s reputation and is a milestone on Taiwan’s road toward democracy and freedom of expression.
The effects of violent suppression of the freedom of expression are short lived, and public debate is certain to rise again. The Chinese leadership must understand that China is a member of the global community, and as such, it must act according to international standards. It cannot continue to isolate itself and behave like a feudal emperor in total disregard of the law. Doing so will not only be unacceptable to its citizens, it will also be criticized by the international community.
Although Hong Kong is a territory of China, it exists within the “one country, two systems” framework, so when the Chinese government kidnaps people in complete disregard of Hong Kong’s public sentiment, it insults Hong Kong’s government and frightens its residents, while Taiwanese get to clearly see what China is really all about.
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