RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Let's look deeper into a mystery in Hong Kong. That former British colony is on edge following the disappearance of five people involved in selling books highly critical of China's Communist Party. Many suspect they were abducted by mainland Chinese agents, which has many in Hong Kong wondering, who could be next? For more, we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt, who's following the story from Shanghai. Good morning.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Tell us about the most recent case that has alarmed people.
LANGFITT: Yeah, this most recent one is a guy named Lee Bo. He works at a place called Causeway Bay Books. And they do a lot of salacious titles about the private lives of Communist Party leaders. Well, last week he disappeared. And he called his wife from the other side of the border in mainland China saying that he was assisting an investigation. But he'd left his travel permit at home. There's no record he actually crossed the border. So some newspapers in Hong Kong and some opposition lawmakers, they think Chinese agents abducted and smuggled him across the border. Even Hong Kong's chief executive - he's pro-mainland - he acknowledged this could be the case. And if it is, it violates Hong Kong's constitution.
MONTAGNE: Well, Frank, the Communist Party on the mainland jails critics all the time. Is this all getting so much attention because it is Hong Kong?
LANGFITT: Exactly. It's so different from the mainland. I mean, you know, Hong Kong is much more like New York City than it would be like Beijing. It's a former British colony, of course. There's free speech and rule of law there. Many people in Hong Kong are very critical of the Communist Party, very vocal about it. You could never do that in the mainland. And last year, as you remember, there were months of pro-democracy demonstrations that really made the party here in China really furious. So Hong Kongers are worried these disappearances may be a part of a crackdown to slowly strip away their freedoms. I was talking today to Lee Cheuk-yan - he's the Democratic legislator in Hong Kong - and he put it like this.
LEE CHEUK-YAN: This case shows that if they want to enforce their law, they can come over suddenly and grab the concerned person back to China. Then the whole security - personal security of the people of Hong Kong - is at stake.
MONTAGNE: That does sound a little scary.
LANGFITT: It does. I think for a lot of people in Hong Kong, it feels a bit sinister.
MONTAGNE: And how are Hong Kong police investigating?
LANGFITT: Well, they are looking into it. They've asked mainland authorities what's going on. They haven't gotten any answers yet. But the case is kind of getting weirder by the day. Yesterday, Lee, the guy who disappeared, he allegedly faxed a message to a colleague saying he was OK, in the mainland voluntarily. And then his wife also withdrew the missing persons complaint from the cops. So a lot of people in Hong Kong think that both of them - the couple - are under pressure from the Chinese government to kind of make this get a lot quieter because it's become such an international story.
MONTAGNE: Frank, thanks very much.
LANGFITT: You're very welcome, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Frank Langfitt speaking to us from Shanghai.
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