'Missing' Hong Kong bookseller speaks out over detention

Lam Wing-kee attends a news conference in the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on June 16, 2016.
Lam Wing-kee attends a news conference in the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on June 16, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

HONG KONG (AFP) - A Hong Kong bookseller known for selling titles critical of Beijing told Thursday (June 16) how he was blindfolded and kept in a tiny cell by Chinese authorities after going missing eight months ago.

Lam Wing-kee is one of five booksellers who published salacious titles about leading Chinese politicians and disappeared at the end of last year in a case that exacerbated fears Beijing was tightening its grip on Hong Kong.

Lam is the first bookseller to speak openly about what happened and said the case had "violated the rights of Hong Kong people".

He was supposed to return to the mainland Thursday after being released on bail Tuesday, he told reporters. However, he has decided not to return and instead to speak out about his case. "I dare not go back," he said.

The condition of his bail was to bring back records of customers who had received books from the Causeway Bay Bookstore that he managed.

Lam said he did not want to comply for fear that it would be seen as "selling out" the readers.

Lam struggled to contain his emotions as he gave a detailed description of his detention and how he was forced to sign a document giving up his right to a lawyer or to speak to his family.

He said he was arrested after crossing the border from Hong Kong into the southern mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen in October.

Lam told how he was blindfolded and taken by train to the city of Ningbo, where he was kept in a 200-square-feet (18-sq-metre) room for five months under guard. He was then moved to an apartment.

Earlier this year he gave a confession on Chinese state television over trading books into China that were banned there.

But he told reporters Thursday that he had been forced to do that.

"I acted in front of the camera, I needed to. There was a director. I had to recite the script," he said.

The other four booksellers are still detained in China.

All but one have been allowed to return to Hong Kong on bail but have swiftly gone back over the border, apart from Lam.

The case of bookseller Lee Bo caused the greatest outcry as he was the only one to disappear from Hong Kong, leading to accusations that mainland law enforcement agents were operating illegally in the city.

Lee has insisted he is a free man just helping the authorities with their investigation.

But Lam said Lee had told him he had been brought to the mainland against his will.

The men all worked for the Mighty Current publishing house, which produced books about political intrigue and love affairs at the highest levels of Chinese politics.

Hong Kong was returned to China by Britain in 1997 and enjoys far greater liberties than in mainland China, but there are fears these are being eroded.