Hong Kong bookseller details abduction by Chinese police

‘If I don’t speak up. . . then there is no hope for Hong Kong,’ says Lam Wing-kee

Lam Wing-kee, one of the five Hong Kong booksellers who vanished last year into Chinese police custody, said he had been abducted, held for eight months at a detention facility and forced to make a televised confession for selling literature banned in China.

He also appeared to confirm that the British citizen Lee Bo had been kidnapped from Hong Kong in serious breach of the Basic Law, rules that give the territory a high degree of autonomy since the return to Chinese rule in 1997.

"I just want to pass on a message: we here, including Hong Kong journalists, we Hong Kong people are all on the same boat. (The disappearances) can happen to you too for sure. If we don't speak up, if I don't speak up being the least of the five, then there is no hope for Hong Kong," Mr Lam (61) told a news conference in Hong Kong's Legislative Council building.

The disappearances of the five booksellers who worked at the Causeway Bay bookshop that specialised in gossipy books critical of the Communist Party has been seen as evidence of Chinese authorities meddling in Hong Kong's autonomy.


Flanked by leading Hong Kong Democrat Albert Ho Chun-yan, Mr Lam told of how he went on a short trip to see his girlfriend in Shenzhen in October, and was picked up by Chinese police at the border crossing at Lo Wu. He was blindfolded, bundled onto a train and taken 1,100 kilometres away to Ningbo in Zhejiang province in eastern China, where he was put under 24-hour surveillance. He was not allowed to have a lawyer or contact his family.

Mr Lam and three of his colleagues – Swedish national Gui Minhai, Lui Por and Cheung Chi-ping confessed to "illegal book trading" on China's Phoenix Television in February, which he said was scripted.

"It was a show. . . 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 said, in a transcript of the 70-minute briefing carried by the South China Morning Post newspaper.

Mr Lam said his colleague Lee Bo told him he had been “taken away from Hong Kong”, which conflicts with Mr Lee’s statement that he had gone to China, without any identification, to voluntarily help police with inquiries.

Mr Lam said the Chinese police were looking for a database of customers for the Causeway Bay bookshop, and had asked him to return to China once he had picked it up.

“I did not return. . . of course I dared not return,” he told the briefing.

The human rights group Amnesty International called on the Chinese authorities to "admit what really happened to the five Hong Kong booksellers".

"Lam Wing-kee has blown apart the Chinese authorities' story. He has exposed what many have suspected all along: that this was a concerted operation by the Chinese authorities to go after the booksellers. It seems clear he, and most likely the others, were arbitrary detained, ill-treated and forced to confess," said Mabel Au, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong.

Mr Lam expressed fear for the wellbeing of his colleagues and friends but also had a defiant message.

“I also want to tell the whole world. 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.”

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing