Five out of the six missing Hong Kong booksellers have appeared on Chinese state TV, where they confessed to illegally selling books with “fabricated” content on the Chinese mainland.
All men worked for Mighty Current Publishing, which distributes books banned on the mainland for being critical of the ruling Communist Party.
Gui Minhai, Lui Bo, Lam Wingkei and Cheung Jinping were featured on Phoenix TV last Sunday. They said they had collaborated in selling 4,000 illegal titles to 380 customers on the mainland. All said they had turned themselves in to Chinese authorities.
Although public confessions are common under Chinese law, many activists believe these were coerced. Under the “One Country, Two Systems” doctrine, Chinese authorities do not have jurisdiction in Hong Kong. This also fuels beliefs that the booksellers were kidnapped.
Lam told the cameras that the books’ content was made up.
“They were downloaded from the Internet, and were pieced together from magazines,” Lam said. “They have generated lots of rumors in society and brought a bad influence.”
“I have deeply reflected on what I have done and very much regret the illegal book trading I have carried out with Gui Minhai,” Lui said.
Gui, a Swedish national, said he had led the operation. He also admitted to hiding the books from customs by concealing them in bags.
Gui first appeared on Chinese state TV in January where he said he had turned himself in to mainland authorities to answer to a drunken driving charge from more than a decade ago.
Lee Bo, the sixth bookseller, did not appear in the broadcast. Phoenix TV reported he had turned himself into Chinese authorities to aid in the investigation.
However, his travel documents were found in Hong Kong, and authorities there say they have no record of him leaving.
The UK has said Bo was probably “involuntarily removed” to China, in “a serious breach” of the handover treaty upheld by the “One Country, Two Systems” policy..