This summer, from the same people that brought you the missing bookseller drama, comes an all new political drama.
Yesterday, Hong Kong publisher Wang Jianmin was sentenced to 5 years and 3 months in prison, while his editor in chief, Guo Zhongxiao, was given 2 years and 3 months by a Shenzhen court. The court ruled that the two men were running an “illegal business” selling political magazines to mainland China, SCMP reports.
Wang’s wife, Xu Zhongyuan, and a freelance contributor to the magazine, Liu Haito, were also convicted on the same charges, though they did not receive any prison time. All four defendants plead guilty in court and decided not to appeal the decision.
The pair of publishers were both arrested while living in Shenzhen in 2014. They were both founders of National Affairs, Ltd., a publication company registered in Hong Kong that owns the magazines “New Way Monthly” and “Multiple Face.” Wang and Guo earned an estimated HK $7 million through the two magazines. The publications specialized in Chinese political rumors and gossip, materials that are popular among some Chinese mainland tourists visiting Hong Kong.
Is this all sounding familiar yet? Last year, five Hong Kong booksellers disappeared, only to pop back up in custody on the mainland. They later confessed to running an “illegal book selling operation” on the mainland. One of the booksellers, Lam Wing-kee, returned to Hong Kong last month and, unlike his colleagues, he stayed. At a press conference, Lam said that the confessions were forced and he and his colleagues had been “abducted” by Chinese police.
Wang and Guo’s lawyer, Xia Qinhai, tried to argue that the mainland sales for both magazines amounted to just 66,000 yuan, which is less than the minimum 150,000 yuan requirement to justify prosecuting someone for running an illegal business. Meanwhile, according to Chinese law, only if an illegal business takes in over 250,000 yuan can the involved personnel receive a sentence that is more than five years.
Hong Kong media has unanimously condemned the court’s decision. Lam Wing-kee himself issued a statement, saying that: “The sentence shows that Beijing is trampling on the principles of ‘One Country Two Systems,’ Hong Kong must rise up and protest the decision. Hong Kong Journalists Association chairwoman Sham Yee-lan has also denounced the verdict, calling it a “blow to the freedom of speech.”
“The jail terms were very heavy. The publications were in fact printed in Hong Kong by registered companies here,” Sham said in an interview.