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Joshua Wong, left, and members of the student group Scholarism hold placards during a protest against the disappearances of booksellers outside the British Consulate in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. Five men associated with a Hong Kong publisher known for books critical of China's leaders have vanished one by one in the last three months, alarming activists and deepening suspicions that mainland authorities are squeezing free expression in the enclave. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Vincent Yu/The Associated Press

If you want to remain free and visible in Hong Kong, it may no longer be safe to criticize the rulers of mainland China. Beijing's security forces appear to have seized Hong Kong citizens, crossing a line between China and the autonomous city-state. The principle of "one country, two systems" is in peril.

Mighty Current Media is a Hong Kong publishing house (and bookshop) that specializes in criticizing the Beijing government. Five men involved with the company have disappeared. Last week, one of them, Lee Bo, was seen leaving a warehouse; he later failed to return home. Then on Saturday he phoned his wife, Choi Ka-ping (one of the company's owners) from the neighbouring mainland province of Shenzhen, saying he was "assisting in an investigation." He has likely been abducted by police to be interrogated – or pressured into withdrawing one of MCM's books. This is business as usual in China, but not in Hong Kong.

Four other Mighty Current employees have been missing since October, one of them last seen in Thailand, another in Shenzhen, and two others elsewhere in China.

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It is suspected that the Chinese security forces are pressing Mighty Current not to publish a book about a former girlfriend of Xi Jinping, the President of China.

C.Y. Leung, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, has said that the Hong Kong police are investigating, and he has reasserted their sole authority to enforce the law and investigate crime on the island. That said, Mr. Leung is well-disposed to the mainland Chinese government – it's how he got his job. And Ms. Choi has asked the Hong Kong police to close the file, saying she is under "tremendous pressure."

All this sounds ominous for the future of Hong Kong. Some members of the island's Legislative Council are very concerned. In a sign of the times, a major Hong Kong bookstore chain has removed "politically sensitive" books from its shelves. The British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, was in Beijing this week, and he "urgently" inquired into the matter; Lee Bo is a British citizen.

The two-systems concept was central to the deal that returned Hong Kong to China, and Beijing must honour its commitment. Otherwise, Hong Kong's freedom is done for.

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