Hong Kong bookseller disappearances

Bookseller says Beijing detention deal won’t ease Hongkongers’ ‘worst fears’

Lam Wing-kee recalls 2015 experience when he disappeared from the city and turned up in mainland custody

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 December, 2017, 8:31am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 December, 2017, 9:41am

Causeway Bay Books founder Lam Wing-kee said Hong Kong and Beijing’s new deal to set up a faster notification system on detentions would not ease city residents’ fears about their personal safety and freedoms.

Lam was one of five Hong Kong booksellers who went missing in late 2015, and eventually turned up in the custody of mainland authorities. All were linked to Mighty Current publishing company, which specialised in political gossip about the Chinese leadership.

Their disappearance raised concerns locally and internationally about Hong Kong’s reciprocal notification mechanism, under which mainland authorities were supposed to inform the city’s police when they detained a Hong Kong resident. It was unclear whether local police had ever been notified of Lam’s detention.

The bookseller returned to Hong Kong on bail in June last year after eight months in detention and spoke publicly about his experience upon his arrival.

Hong Kong and Beijing authorities on Thursday committed to informing each other within seven working days when someone is being held for possible crimes.

But Lam described the new deal as “not too meaningful” as it did not touch on Hongkongers’ “worst fears” about their personal safety and freedoms.

When I was detained, I was forced to give up my right to inform my family and lawyer
Lam Wing-kee, Hong Kong bookseller

“It’s good to require [mainland authorities] to provide more information ... and the notification might come 10 or 20 days earlier, but the resident will have already been arrested,” he said.

“When I was detained, I was forced to give up my right to inform my family and lawyer.”

Lam and other booksellers had claimed they returned to the mainland voluntarily, but their case fuelled fears that mainland agents had been operating in the city. Officials denied that suggestion.

Last month, Beijing signalled its impatience with Hong Kong for its lack of progress in enacting Article 23 of the Basic Law, which obliges the city to draft laws against treason, sedition and subversion.

Lam said the Article 23 legislation would threaten Hongkongers’ personal rights.

“Advocating Hong Kong’s independence will become a crime,” he added. “It will further restrict our personal liberties and freedom of expression.”

In October, fellow bookseller Gui Minhai reportedly reunited with his family in the Chinese city of Ningbo following his release from mainland custody.

Watch: Hong Kong missing booksellers timeline

Lam said he had not been in contact with Gui or his former colleague’s family and friends, but he believed Gui would be staying in the mainland for “some time”.

Claiming now to be retired, Lam said he enjoyed reading, hiking and exercising.

He added he recently took part in a rally in the city organised by pan-democratic lawmakers to protest against their political rivals’ proposed changes to the Legislative Council rule book.

Without elaborating, Lam said he was planning to start a bookstore in Taiwan.