My Take

Hongkongers may need to start worrying about the midnight knock on the door

The revelations of detained bookseller Lam Wing-kee could undermine confidence in the ‘one country, two systems’ principle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 June, 2016, 10:46pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 June, 2016, 10:17am

Hong Kong people have not had to worry about the midnight knock on the door. But if the explosive expose by bookseller Lam Wing-kee is true, the long arm of the Chinese security state is finally here.

Lam was allowed to return home this week after being detained on the mainland since October. But unlike his released colleagues, he did something different. Instead of keeping silent, he called a press conference in which he spilled the beans about his detention and forced confession on television. The crime: the selling and distribution of anti-government books in Hong Kong and on the mainland.

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

Lam described how he was detained while making his way to Shenzhen, and eventually shipped half way across the country. The whole time, he was constantly being interrogated.

People from Hong Kong have been detained, jailed or even executed on the mainland before. So Lam’s experience is perhaps not unique for those who fall on the wrong side of mainland security. But the most disturbing revelation, if true, is that his colleague Lee Po was abducted in Hong Kong. This contradicts Lee’s own version according to which he voluntarily returned to the mainland to help officials in an investigation. Of the five booksellers, Gui Minhai vanished first from Pattaya in Thailand. Lam, Cheung Chi-ping and Lui Por went missing while on the mainland. Lee Po disappeared from Hong Kong in December. Call it what you will, but it looks like at least two of them were captured outside the mainland.

I wasn’t abducted by mainland agents … Lam Wing-kee has it wrong, Lee Po insists

According to Lam, mainland officers were also interested in the identities of the bookstore’s customers, both in Hong Kong and the mainland. Indeed, he said he was released so that he could retrieve the personal data of Hong Kong customers for mainland authorities.

Lam’s claims, if true, cut to the heart of “one country two systems”, because nothing undermines confidence in the system than seeing mainland security officers operating against people in Hong Kong with impunity.

At this point, it’s unclear what the mainland’s thinking is. Perhaps those involved miscalculated by thinking they could control the five men and contain the situation.

Or worse, they didn’t care if someone like Lam spilled the beans because they wanted this to be a warning to people in Hong Kong.