Hong Kong bookseller denies that he was abducted

Lee Bo rejects associate's story that he was nabbed in HK and taken to mainland against his will

Protesters from pro-democracy group Demosisto outside China's liaison office in Hong Kong yesterday.
Protesters from pro-democracy group Demosisto outside China's liaison office in Hong Kong yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The story of the Hong Kong booksellers detained in mainland China for "illegal" book trading has taken another twist, with one of them coming out to refute another's version of what happened.

On Thursday, Mr Lam Wing Kee told a press conference in Hong Kong that Mr Lee Bo had told him he was seized in Hong Kong and taken to the mainland against his will.

Not true, said Mr Lee yesterday. He had not even raised the topic with Mr Lam, he wrote on Facebook.

As outrage in the city grew over what many deem to be Chinese authorities taking extralegal action in breach of the "one country, two systems" framework, Beijing yesterday responded, saying Mr Lee had explained that he had entered the mainland voluntarily.

It also maintained that China has the right to deal with Mr Lam under Chinese laws as he is a Chinese citizen. "If he had broken the law in mainland China, the relevant departments here, of course, have the right to deal with him according to the law," said a spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) at a daily press briefing.

Mr Lee, 65, and Mr Lam, 61, were among five Hong Kong booksellers who disappeared last year only to resurface on the mainland this year. The five associates ran a publishing firm and a bookshop in Causeway Bay specialising in salacious gossip about China's leaders.

On Thursday, Mr Lam revealed that he was seized in Shenzhen last October, handcuffed and taken to Ningbo by train. He was detained there for almost eight months and questioned about his role in the company, including the mailing of his company's books, banned on the mainland, to its clients there.

The unexpected disclosures by Mr Lam have further deepened the rift between Hong Kong people and the Beijing government.

Yesterday, about 40 protesters from pro-democracy party Demosisto stood outside China's liaison office rallying against the actions of the authorities. Another protest is planned for today.

The city's top leaders scrambled to assuage concerns with declarations that they are taking steps to investigate the matter.

With Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying on leave, acting chief John Tsang reiterated that it was illegal for any outside authorities to operate in Hong Kong without permission, but did not address concerns on ensuring Mr Lam's safety.

Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen said the police have contacted Mr Lam to follow up on his claims.

He said any person who is physically in Hong Kong is entitled to legal protection under the city's laws.

"Whether or not there is any breach of law in mainland China, that's a matter which we would like to look into," he added.

There is a lot to answer for, says political scientist Joseph Cheng. He said that even if Mr Lam had broken a mainland law by mailing illegal items from Hong Kong to people on the mainland, the Chinese authorities had violated their own criminal procedural law by detaining him for so long without access to a lawyer.

They had also not informed the Hong Kong government within 14 days as required. Asked about this at the briefing, the Chinese MFA spokesman sidestepped the issue.

Yesterday, the man at the centre of the controversy was absent. Mr Lam was resting, Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho, who arranged his press conference on Thursday, told The Straits Times.

On whether protection should be arranged for Mr Lam, Mr Ho said: "There is no protection for him, there is nothing we can do... Anything can happen, but we just have to continue fighting for the freedom of Hong Kong."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2016, with the headline 'HK bookseller denies that he was abducted'. Subscribe