One of Hong Kong’s “disappeared” booksellers who has been missing for nearly eight months said Thursday (June 16) he was kidnapped by Chinese authorities.
Lam Wing-kee said he was forced to make a fraudulent public confession, denied any legal representation, and only allowed to leave the mainland when he agreed to turn over names of readers who frequented the store where he worked.
Lam went missing in October 2015 along with four other men associated with Causeway Bay Books, returned to Hong Kong on Tuesday. Two days later, he held a media conference where he recalled the details of his abduction. He’s the first of Hong Kong’s disappeared booksellers to publicly accuse the Chinese government of violating both Chinese law and the “Basic Law” that governs Hong Kong.
His press conference was broadcast online by Apple Daily (link and video in Chinese).
Chinese customs intercepted Lam at the Luo Wu border separating Hong Kong and mainland China on October 24, 2015, he said, as he was traveling to the mainland to visit his girlfriend. “I was handcuffed and my eyes were covered,” he said. “It took about 13 or 14 hours.”
Authorities took him by train to Ningbo, a city more than 1,000 kilometers away from Hong Kong. Upon arrival, he said he was to a 200 by 300 square meter room, and told to change clothes. Authorities asked him to sign a declaration stating he would give up rights to contact his family and not seek assistance from a lawyer.
From November to March, Lam says he remained in the room with no outside communication or legal representation. Authorities accused him of “bringing forbidden books to China” which runs against mainland Chinese law, although he replied that he ran his store legally under Hong Kong law.
Authorities at one point forced him to express regret for his crimes on camera, which was broadcast on mainland Chinese television in February. “There was a director. There were scripts,” he said. “I had to remember them and practice. If I forgot, they would give me some time.”
In March, Lam was transferred to Shaoguan, a city in Guangdong Province closer to Hong Kong, where he remained in detention until two days ago. Lam says that Chinese authorities allowed him to return to Hong Kong provided he turn over a database containing information about Causeway Bay Books’ readers and authors.
He was supposed to go back to the mainland today, but says he “dare not.”
Lee Bo and Gui Minhai, two other booksellers who went missing from Causeway Bay Books, were quoted in news reports saying that they traveled to China on their own volition.
Lam said that unlike the other booksellers, he does not have family residing in the mainland, so he is more free to speak truthfully about the events. Gui remains in Chinese custody.
Additional reporting by Tom Tsui.