Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee agrees to police protection
Lam also reveals details about how he got into the banned book business
Bookseller Lam Wing-kee accepted a police offer to protect him on Friday, although a source said he was not happy about the arrangements and the force was considering his suggestion as to how they should go about it.
Police said they had assessed Lam’s fears about being tailed by strangers and found no evidence he was in danger, but would still arrange his protection because of public concern about his safety.
A senior government source revealed that Lam did not fully agree with the arrangements proposed by police.
“Lam had his own ideas and gave a counter-offer to the officers. The force needs time to consider it,” the source said.
It is understood the bookseller was offered a safe house guarded around the clock by the police’s Witness Protection Unit, but Lam did not want to be under 24-hour surveillance.
“Who should take responsibility if something happens to him when he’s not under watch?” the source said.
In a second interview with the Post on Wednesday, Lam, 61, spoke of his past to explain how he ended up at the centre of the storm after he and four other Hong Kong booksellers disappeared last year, and later turned up on the mainland, where they were detained for selling banned books across the border.
A primary school graduate with mostly blue-collar industrial work experience, Lam said he had followed his lifelong interest in reading and joined the publishing business as soon as he paid off his mortgage in the 1980s.
He set up his own book business in 1992, a decision that would eventually see him detained in Ningbo and Shaoguan after entering Shenzhen last October.
After dropping out of school, Lam took up jobs such as catering, delivering soft drinks, and making plastic moulds and wooden kitchenware. He was earning a living, but his heart was still in books.
“I’ve been in love with books since I was a child,” Lam said, recalling that he picked upa copy of All Quiet on the Western Front, the classic first world war novel, before age 10.
His dream to combine work and his personal interest came true at around 30, when he joined Chung Hwa Book, where he met the woman who was to become his wife. But the job at the publisher that had close ties with the mainland ended unhappily.
“Before the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, my colleagues were positive about [the protesters],” he said.
“But after the Chinese government labelled it a rebellion, my colleagues regretted their earlier positions. I found their attitude questionable. I was utterly disappointed.”
In 1992, he set up Treasure Books, the predecessor of Causeway Bay Books. It was while working with this bookstore, which specialised in publications criticising China’s leaders, that Lam and his associates would run foul of mainland authorities.
The fate of the booksellers raised widespread concern about the “one country, two systems” formula, prompting the government to open talks with Beijing on improving the cross-border notification system that failed in their case.
Looking back at his eight months in confinement or under surveillance, he said the loss of liberty was incomparably dreadful.
“All I could do when confined was look out of the only window. I heard the birds sing,” Lam said. “If there was one thing I learned to distinguish, this was it: to hear birds sing from inside confinement is completely different from hearing them sing in the open.”
That difference, he said, would be easily missed by a free man.