The disappearance of five publishers is a greater challenge to Hong Kong’s autonomy than the much maligned Article 23 national security law said former Chief Secretary Anson Chan after thousands of people took to the streets on Sunday to demand answers from Beijing on the whereabouts of the five, reported RTHK.

Chan urged Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to allay public fears that Chinese law enforcement agencies were kidnapping residents from Hong Kong soil and taking them across the border for questioning.  Publisher Lee Bo has not been seen since leaving the premises in Chai Wan earlier this year. Four others have been missing since October last year — feared abducted in Thailand and southern China.

The protest on Sunday. Photo: HKFP.

“It’s possible that similar incidents have occurred in the past, but they weren’t brought to light and that no-one cared. Now that this has happened, if the people of Hong Kong still do not speak up, I believe that one country two systems will soon be completely destroyed,” Chan told RTHK.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration which saw Hong Kong handed over to China in 1997, also guarantees Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy. In 2003, some estimated 500,000 people took to the streets to protest Article 23, a vague security law that prohibited any acts of treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the Chinese government. Amid strong opposition the legislation was shelved indefinitely.

Anson Chan sports a yellow ribbon at the protest.

The international community’s confidence in one country two systems has also been shaken, because of the lack of clarity from the mainland authorities, said Ronny Tong Ka-wah convener of local think tank Path of Democracy.

He hoped if there were any mistakes made by mainland authorities, the Central government would have the courage to correct it. He added that Hong Kong could not afford for one country two systems to fail and that everyone should ensure that would remain in force at least until 2047, as set out in the Joint Declaration.

Meanwhile Executive Council convener Lam Woon-kwong called for caution, saying public figures should put the safety of the missing persons first and be careful commenting on the incident. He added that they should refrain from speculations based on unverified rumours.

Previously at a Legislative Council Panel on Security meeting, Finance sector lawmaker Ng Leung-sing suggested the five missing booksellers were arrested by Chinese police for illegally entering the mainland to solicit sex. He has since apologised for his comments.

If the continuous communication between the Hong Kong and mainland authorities saw no further results, the SAR government should consider proposing the setting up a joint task force to investigate the matter, said Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.