Well, folks, you may not be planning to move to the mainland but it seems the mainland is coming to you.

There is an old saying in military circles that if something bad happens once it is luck, twice is a coincidence… and three times is enemy action. Now that five people in succession have disappeared from the same publishing company we can exclude coincidence and assume that our Red brothers have taken a hand in matters.

Even Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying can see the appalling consequences of having mainland policemen grabbing people in Hong Kong and bundling them over the border (unless, presumably, they do it in the express rail station); but that is not the worst of it. After all, one illegal arrest could be put down to the over-enthusiasm of an underling. Clearly all five people have been arrested—or, if you prefer, kidnapped—because of things they had done in Hong Kong. And this is precisely what is not supposed to happen.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

One Country, Two Systems, the Basic Law, and all that are meaningless if conduct which is not an offence in Hong Kong can lead to your arrest on the mainland… or of course in Thailand.

It is no doubt very provocative and naughty that you can buy in Hong Kong books which would be banned on the mainland if someone tried to publish them there. But that is and must be a consequence of Hong Kong preserving its legal system and the rights which that system protects. If the mainland really wants to prevent its citizens getting a whiff of freedom it can stop them coming here. But if you walk into the sea you cannot avoid getting wet.

Lee Bo’s Causeway Bay Books shop. Photo: Stand News.

If anyone doubted that we were looking at a Communist Party operation they could draw confirmation from the amazing and disreputable performance in LegCo of Mr Ng Leung-sing.

Mr Ng is regarded as pro-China and we must suppose he needs to be because he is the chairman of an off-shoot of the Bank of China. He sits in Legco for the Financial functional constituency, who must I suspect find him faintly embarrassing. His main claim to fame recently was a request for a government scientific investigation into the possibility that lead in tap water was good for you. Mr Ng’s role in current events was to provide that indispensable ingredient in denunciations of counter-revolutionary intellectuals, a lurid allegation of sexual misconduct. A nameless business friend had apparently told Mr Ng that all the booksellers had been arrested because they were in the habit of taking clandestine boat trips to the mainland to visit prostitutes there.

File Photo: Ng Leung-sing.

The implausibility of this scurrilous tale is exceded only by its slanderous quality. Councillors are immune from defamation suits while speaking in the chamber. It is a gross abuse of this necessary right to use it to denigrate individuals on the basis of non-existent evidence. Mr Ng staggered on to equally disreputable argument that it might be an infringement of the victims’ privacy to investigate what had happened to them.

I suppose this sort of thing goes in the mainland all the time. People disappear. Lurid stories of sexual misconduct are told about them. They confess, sometimes on television. There is a show trial. This has been happening in China for 50 years. And we all thought that, for 50 years at least, it was not going to happen here. Is it time to think again?

Tim Hamlett

Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.