Just when it seemed like the mystery of the missing Hong Kong booksellers was wrapping up, a dramatic twist has emerged with one of the five speaking out about being abducted by mainland authorities and kept in detention for eight months.
Lam Wing-kee, a shareholder at the Causeway Bay Bookstore, known for publishing material and gossip critical of the central government in Beijing, was reported missing by his wife back in November 2015. Months later, details emerged that he was being held in mainland China and soon he appeared on state television to confess to his crimes of mailing books to his mainland clients.
Lam was allowed to re-enter Hong Kong earlier this June and he has seized that opportunity to hold a press conference yesterday. You can read a full transcript in English on SCMP.
Lam spoke about how he was detained by mainland officers while crossing the Shenzhen immigration checkpoint to visit his girlfriend.
I remember that when I was passing immigration, the document scan machine stopped and I was trapped there. Two immigration officers pointed at me. Then a few other officers… took me to a corner on the left. Maybe they recognized me.
With his papers confiscated, Lam says he was taken to a police station, where he was detained without reason.
That night, I sat on a chair for criminals for the whole night and didn’t get to sleep a wink. Of course they provided me with food. It was at around 7am in the morning – very early – when people from the police station and the people who took me away came over with breakfast.
I was covered up the whole time. They blindfolded me and put a cap on my head and basically bundled me up.
Lam says he was later taken on a train journey to Ningbo, where he was placed inside a small 200×300 foot room and repeatedly interrogated for his crimes.
At the beginning, they said that because I was delivering or mailing books illegally to the mainland, I had broken their law. But they said that books published in Hong Kong could not be mailed or taken to the mainland and to do so would be illegal. Then they said they might prosecute me because I had broken their law.
Lam was detained until April — a total of six months — and then allowed to live with more freedom in Shaoshan before being permitted to go back to Hong Kong on the condition that he would retrieve a hard drive containing the records of his mainland clients that ordered copies of his shop’s books. Nevertheless, Lam decided not to return across the border to the mainland again and instead made his story public.
According to SCMP, Lam claimed that his public confession broadcast on Phoenix Television had been staged. “It was a show, and I accepted it,” he said. “They gave me the script. I had to follow the script. If I did not follow it strictly, they would ask for a re-take.”
He also lambasted Chinese authorities for the detainment, claiming that fellow bookseller Lee Bo had also been forcibly taken from Hong Kong, rather than voluntarily going to the mainland as Bo has repeatedly claimed, both during his detainment and upon arriving back in Hong Kong briefly in late March.
This isn’t about me, this isn’t about a bookstore, this is about everyone. This is the bottom line of the Hong Kong people. This is Hongkongers’ bottom line – Hongkongers will not bow down before brute force.
After listening to Lam’s revelations, Hong Kong citizens have erupted into fury, with many viewing this as yet another example of Hong Kong’s eroding sovereignty that goes back on Beijing’s promise to uphold the “one country, two systems” principle. Following Lam’s words that his detainment had “violated the rights of Hong Kong people,” Amnesty International Hong Kong Director Mabel Au declared that Lam has “blown apart the Chinese authorities’ story.” According to HKFP, Mabel further stated that:
(the detainment) was a concerted operation by the Chinese authorities to go after the booksellers. It seems clear he, and most likely the others, were arbitrarily detained, ill-treated and forced to confess.
In response to Lam’s story, his colleague and co-owner Lee Bo offered a different version. Lee who made a brief appearance back in Hong Kong in late March, only to again renounce his British passport and slip back across the border claiming that he was going to a funeral, posted on Friday on his Facebook page that:
When I was chatting with Lam Wing-kee, I did not talk about how I returned to the mainland, and so I didn’t say I went to the mainland involuntarily or anything similar to that.
Even the Chinese government has stepped into the fray. In a press conference earlier today, China Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman Hua Chunying reiterated that Lam Wing-Kee is a Chinese national. She stated that since Lam had broken Chinese law in China, relevant Chinese authorities had the right to use appropriate measures in dealing with the case.
Hua also said that she had no new information about the current status of Gui Minhai, the only one of the missing booksellers who has yet to return home. He went missing from his apartment in Bangkok last October, only to reappear in January on CCTV, making a tearful confession to killing a student while drunk driving in the mainland over a decade ago. In their televised confessions, his colleagues fingered Gui as the mastermind behind the whole book trading business.
Gui’s daughter told CNN on Thursday that Lam’s release made her hopeful that her father would also be permitted to return to Hong Kong. The two remaining missing booksellers, Lui Bo and Cheung Jiping, made briefs returns to Hong Kong in early March to speak with police and tell them to drop their missing persons cases, before crossing the border back into the mainland.
So, with the whereabouts of four of the missing booksellers still unknown, the saga continues as relations between Hong Kong and the mainland continue to spiral downward. Can’t wait to see where the next chapter goes with this.
By Arnie Yung
[Images via StandNews / Apple Daily / Amnesty International Hong Kong / hk01]