Pressure grows for answers in Hong Kong bookseller saga as protesters stage march

Democratic Party members holding up placards on their way to protest at the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong on June 17.
Democratic Party members holding up placards on their way to protest at the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong on June 17.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - Pressure is growing on Hong Kong's authorities to give clear answers over the case of five city booksellers who disappeared and resurfaced in China, with protesters staging a march on Saturday (June 18).

The case is back under the spotlight after explosive revelations by one of the booksellers, Mr Lam Wing Kee, who told how he was detained for eight months in China after crossing the border to visit his girlfriend.

The five men all worked for a publisher known for salacious titles about leading Beijing politicians.

Mr Lam's story has confirmed what many in the semi-autonomous city feared after the booksellers went missing last year and has heightened concerns that Beijing is tightening its grip.

Mr Lam attended a march through the city centre on Saturday afternoon, organised by pro-democracy lawmakers, to demand explanations.

Beijing has refused to be drawn on Lam's accusations, saying only that it is entitled to pursue the case as he broke mainland Chinese laws.

The Hong Kong authorities have expressed "concern", saying they are attempting to speak to Mr Lam.

Pro-democracy legislators have accused the Hong Kong government of being Beijing's puppet and have urged the authorities to address residents' concerns.

"We thought the government would protect Hong Kong people - they can't," said pro-democracy lawmaker Frederick Fung, who also participated in the march.

"I request that the government clearly explain what they have done to help Lam or the other Causeway Bay bookstore workers in these past eight months. If they don't, then they're not our government."

Members of the Democratic Party have written an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping saying the mainland authorities have "seriously violated" Hong Kong's semi-autonomous system.

In an editorial on Saturday, the South China Morning Post, which has been criticised for being too Beijing-friendly, also demanded both sides "come clean".

"The public cannot put the case behind it unless there are more clarifications and assurances from Beijing and the Hong Kong government," it said.

Mr Lam, 61, who is breaking his bail and refusing to return to the mainland, told how he was kept in a room and interrogated for months with no access to a lawyer or his family.

He also described how he recited a scripted confession on Chinese state television, admitting to trading banned books, out of fear.

Mr Lam said he was allowed to return to Hong Kong on Tuesday on condition that he go back over the border on Thursday, bringing with him a hard disk of bookstore customers. He says he does not want to hand over the records and decided to speak out instead.

Mr Lam is one of four booksellers under official investigation on the mainland for trading banned books in China.

The fifth, Mr Lee Bo, the only bookseller to disappear on Hong Kong soil, has said he is simply helping with inquiries and is currently back in the city.

He has refuted Mr Lam's claims that Mr Lee told him he had been taken to the mainland against his will.