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Hong Kong bookseller disappearances

Bookseller Lam Wing-kee leads thousands in protest through streets of Hong Kong

As colleagues dispute his claims, Lam Wing-kee leads march with warning over freedoms while mainland and Hong Kong police discuss cooperation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 June, 2016, 3:50pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 June, 2016, 11:53am

Thousands of protesters took to Hong Kong’s streets yesterday in a strong show of support for a bookseller who returned from mainland custody to claim he had been kidnapped, even as his previously missing colleagues disputed his story and police on both sides of the border said they were ­discussing cooperation to resolve the controversy.

After his explosive revelations last week about eight months of forced detention and mental torture at the hands of a special central investigative unit, Lam Wing-kee led an estimated 6,000 people on a march from Causeway Bay to Beijing’s liaison office. Police said the turnout was 1,800 at its peak.

On revealing he had been nabbed after crossing the border into Shenzhen last October, Lam also claimed that his Causeway Bay Books associate Lee Po had told him he was kidnapped from Hong Kong in December. Lee has consistently said he went to the mainland voluntarily.

Speaking to the media yesterday outside his North Point flat for the first time since Lam’s claims, Lee said: “It’s true that we have met. But I didn’t tell him how I returned to the mainland. I decline to admit what he said about me.

“Talk about your story as you wish. I won’t make any comments. But don’t get me ­involved.”

A photo posted by @wanyux_x on Jun 17, 2016 at 11:43pm PDT

Lam suggested his colleague had been threatened into silence.

“Although Lee Po is now in Hong Kong, he is being controlled because he has family members on the mainland. I knew he has said a lot of things against his will,” Lam said.

Key figure in Hong Kong bookseller row Lee Po speaks out over friend’s explosive kidnap claims

The two other booksellers who also disappeared last year and turned up on the mainland, Cheung Chi-ping and Lui Por, told Sing Tao Daily that Lam was lying.

Lui said he had never been forced to read out a script prepared by mainland authorities for state television, as Lam said he himself was made to do.

Ahead of the march, Lam said: “The bookstore is located in Hong Kong, a place where freedom of speech and of publication is protected. And the [sovereign] country is using violence to destroy it, because it wants to curb the freedom of Hong Kong people gradually. Don’t let it end here.”

Amid citywide demands for the truth about what happened to Lam and his colleagues when they disappeared under suspicious circumstances last year, the state-run Global Times quoted mainland police as saying they would initiate a “working mechanism” with their Hong Kong counterparts to follow up.

The tabloid on Friday quoted a Ningbo police involved in the investigation who did not elaborate on the plan. Ningbo police did not respond to inquiries by the Post yesterday.

Ningbo – near Shanghai – was where Lam claimed he was taken, handcuffed and blindfolded. It was also where the lone bookseller still in mainland custody, Gui Minhai, was accused of killing a 23-year-old student in a 2004 drink-driving incident.

Without confirming whether the mainland side had contacted them, a Hong Kong police spokesman said they “have been maintaining a police cooperation mechanism with mainland police authorities”.

“When conducting such cooperation, any law enforcement actions must only be taken by the local law enforcement agencies in accordance with the law,” he said.

As to fears that Lam could be returned for breaking mainland law by selling books banned there, legislator Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a former security minister, said the city had never sent any Hongkonger across the border because there was no extradition deal.

Bookseller Lam Wing-kee is a Chinese national who broke mainland law and Beijing has the right to deal with him, ministry declares

At yesterday’s march, protesters young and old were as united in their concerns about Hong Kong’s autonomy as in their ­defiance.

“This is the first time that I’m taking part in a march,” 68-year-old retired civil servant Hung Yip said. “Our government has been rubbish in this case.”

Hui Tsz-yau, 14, said Hong Kong people had been kept in the dark all along. “What happened? Why have so many people gone missing?” he asked.

A photo posted by @wanyux_x on Jun 17, 2016 at 11:32pm PDT

“If we don’t come out now, will there be many similar incidents in the future when we can no longer speak up?”

Saleswoman Ceci Chan, 41, said she hoped the world would see how the “one country, two systems” policy was working.

“Hongkongers have to stand up and protest whenever a fellow citizen is taken away because the same thing could happen to you and me,” she said.

Labour Party lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan, who organised the march, said: “This rally, I hope, will send a very strong and clear message to the SAR government that it should carry out its duty to tell the central government the sentiment of Hong Kong.”

TVB last night scrapped a live interview with Lam scheduled for tonight, reportedly on the orders of management.