FREEDOM FROM FEAR

“I’m already half-dead”—Hong Kong’s outspoken bookseller is terrorized in his home city

Last year, five Hong Kong booksellers went missing one by one. They are widely believed to have been kidnapped by Chinese officials for selling banned books critical of the Communist Party to people from the mainland. One of them, Lam Wing-kee, who recently returned, openly said he was abducted, and held against his will for months without being allowed to see a lawyer.

Now Lam has become a pawn in the battle between Hong Kong authorities and Beijing for control of citizens’ rights in the semi-autonomous city. He says he has been stalked numerous times since his return, and forced to leave his home and go into hiding. “I’m already half-dead,” Lam said during an interview with local newspaper Ming Pao (link in Chinese) on Tuesday (July 5).

Hong Kong officials headed to Beijing Tuesday to talk with Chinese authorities about being notified if Hong Kong residents are detained on the mainland. They were briefed about Lam’s case for the first time, nine months after he first disappeared.

The two sides have agreed that from now on, notifications will be sent within 14 days if residents from either side are detained across the border, Hong Kong’s chief executive announced on Wednesday (July 6) morning.

But as they talked, China’s state media relayed a chilling message to Lam. The Ningbo Public Security Bureau, which handled his case, is demanding he return to the mainland for investigation. He has violated Chinese laws by staying across the border on bail, state news agency Xinhua reported (link in Chinese). “If he refuses to return, the bureau will amend the criminal compulsory measures in accordance with the law,” Xinhua said.

In response, Hong Kong’s security chief said on Wednesday morning that the city government is not turning over Lam to the mainland authorities, as there is no fugitive transfer agreements between the two sides.

Hong Kong official in China were shown a video in which Lam was nicely treated in detention, and cooperated while being fed, getting a haircut, and having his blood pressure checked.

There are huge discrepancies between Beijing and Lam’s versions of his detention: Lam confessed in the video shown in the briefing, but in an earlier press conference in Hong Kong, he said he was not guilty, and was forced to confess. The Ningbo police claim he voluntarily gave up his rights to see a lawyer or call his family, but Lam, during the press conference, denied that.

Lam told Ming Pao he has been followed six times since he returned to Hong Kong in mid-June. He originally planned to lead Hong Kong’s annual march on July 1 to protest Beijing’s control, but pulled out at the last minute, saying his safety was seriously threatened.

On July 1, he asked Hong Kong police to protect him, but they rejected his request. “There is no evidence to suggest that Mr. Lam’s personal safety is at risk at this stage,” Hong Kong police said in a statement on Tuesday evening. If threatened, he can call “999,” the general Hong Kong emergency number, they said.

“Hong Kong originally meant freedom from fear for me,” Lam told Ming Pao, but now the city has lost that feeling. Earlier Lam told local media he is a Hong Konger, so he has no intention of leaving the city. On Tuesday he said he is thinking about moving to Taiwan.

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