The sentencing of two Hong Kong journalists by a Shenzhen court for running an illegal business has sparked new concerns for press freedom in the city.

Wang Jianmin and Guo Zhongxiao, who were behind two magazines – New-Way Monthly and Multiple Face – published in Hong Kong, were given jail sentences on Tuesday of five years and three months, and two years and three months, respectively. They were accused of sending the magazines to eight readers on the mainland – most of them friends of Wang – and making profit.

Lam Wing-kee, a Hong Kong bookseller who was detained for eight months on the mainland for the same accusation, said the case showed “the Chinese government is not only gradually restricting Hong Kong people’s freedom of speech and of the press, it is destroying the One Country, Two Systems principle.”

Wang Jianmin Guo Zhongxiao
Guo Zhongxiao (left) and Wang Jianmin (right). File


“To defend our rights, Hong Kong must express its strong opposition. Otherwise, the Basic Law that protects Hong Kong people in accordance with the Sino-British Joint Declaration would turn into wastepaper sooner or later,” he said in a statement.

Wang and Guo, both Hong Kong permanent residents, pleaded guilty at the trial last year. The magazines, published through a company only registered in Hong Kong, often reported the internal political struggles of the Chinese Communist Party.

Lam, of Causeway Bay Books, was one of the five booksellers who went missing last year before reappearing on the mainland. He was detained and “confessed” to running an illegal book posting business.

He decided to hold a surprise press conference revealing the details of his kidnapping, detention and forced confession by a Chinese special unit when he returned to Hong Kong.

lam wing-kee
Lam Wing-kee. Photo: Gene Lin/HKFP.

‘Destructive effects’

The Independent Commentators Association and the Hong Kong Journalists Association said the case may silence vocal journalists across the border, as it was worrying that mainland authorities are selectively suppressing targeted publications and some sensitive information, striking a blow to Hong Kong’s freedoms and the public’s right to know.

The associations questioned what the standard was for certain publications being banned on the mainland, as many Hong Kong publications that have not been registered in China can still be circulated, some even through Chinese official channels.

They said the case of Causeway Bay Books and Hong Kong publisher Yiu Man-tin being jailed caused “destructive effects” on the publishing industry of Hong Kong.

“The mainland authorities clearly want to paralyse and block all operations of the targeted publications and their publishers,” the statement read.

The associations urged mainland authorities to respect One Country, Two Systems and the rule of law, and said that they should not use the law as an excuse to unreasonably suppress freedoms.

Yiu Man-tin Xi Jinping
Yiu Man-tin and “China’s Godfather, Xi Jinping”.

Yiu Man-tin, a Hong Kong publisher who had planned to publish the book China’s Godfather, Xi Jinping, was arrested in Shenzhen in October 2013 for “smuggling ordinary goods.” In May 2014 he was sentenced to ten years in jail.

Johnny Lau Yui-siu, a veteran Chinese watcher, told RTHK that the case showed that a new prohibition on speech and press has been formed following the Causeway Bay Books incident and the takeover of the reformist Chinese magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu.

Wang’s wife Xu Zhongyun, who helped send the magazines, was sentenced to a year in jail, suspended for two years. Liu Haitao, a freelance writer for the magazines, was sentenced to two years in jail, suspended for three years.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.