Hong Kong Bookseller Detained By Chinese Authorities For Months Finally Speaks Out

Lam Wing-kee chose on Thursday to speak out despite the fact that his girlfriend is still under the Chinese authorities' control.

One of the five booksellers from Hong Kong who disappeared and was found to be held in detention for eight months in mainland China broke his silence on Thursday, revealing details of his dramatic abduction and detention at a packed press conference, the South China Morning Post reported.

Bobby Yip / Reuters

Lam Wing-kee, 60, a native Hong Kong resident, was one of five employees of a Hong Kong bookstore that went missing in mainland China and were later charged with running an illegal business. The bookstore, Causeway Bay Books, sells "banned" books to mainland readers, including one claiming to be about Chinese President Xi Jinping and his lover.

While detention of political dissidents has not been uncommon in mainland China, the case of the five Hong Kong booksellers, some of whom hold European passports, is unprecedented and shocked Hong Kong and international community. It's been seen as an alarming signal that China's legal system is willing to go beyond the mainland and violate Hong Kong's longtime high degree of autonomy.

That in turn has had the effect of pushing Hong Kong further away, especially in the eyes of young people. More and more are demanding a fast-track referendum to decide whether the region will fully split from China.

Lam told journalists that one day last October, while attempting to cross the border to meet a friend on the mainland, several customs officers took him to a junkyard and confiscated his ID. Early the next morning, handcuffed and blindfolded, he was brought by train to Ningbo, a city in eastern Zhejiang province.

Bobby Yip / Reuters

Lam said he was taken to a big building and forced to sign a pledge that he would not inform his family or hire lawyers.

He was held in a room in that building until the following March, monitored by three pairs of two guards for 24 hours a day. Everything in the room — his bookshelf, water tap and the walls — were covered with rubber. While he brushed his teeth, someone would hold his toothpaste — all to prevent him from being able to commit suicide, he said. Lam said he was interrogated about 20-30 times and condemned the Chinese government for treating "a bookseller in violation of Chinese law" this way.

“[They] put it nicely that I was just under house surveillance, but I couldn't step out once and had to stare at the sky helplessly [through the window],” Lam told the press conference

In February, Lam issued a TV confession, saying he "deeply understood his fault," but now says he was pressured: “They asked me to admit, and I had to follow."

Lan told the press that he was deeply moved by videos of people marching in the streets for him and the other booksellers. "Hope Hongkongers say 'no' to the people of power, I can do it, why can't you?" he asked.

Bobby Yip / Reuters

According to Lam, the most critical information he possesses is the names of those who've bought books from his bookstore in the past, most of whom are from the mainland. He was able to return Hong Kong on bail, in the company of two officials, because he promised he would hand that list over to the Chinese government.

He obtained the hard drive that kept the information and just as he was set to return to China, he said he thought of his supporters and changed mind. The list however, might have been leaked to the government through Lee Po, another bookseller.

Lam said he didn't seek help from the Hong Kong government because of their pro-mainland attitude in recent years.

As of Thursday, Gui Minhai is the last bookseller that's still being detained. His daughter testified in DC about her father's captiviity.

Lam looked healthy and remained calm throughout the 100-minute press conference, which is available only in Cantonese.

Lam also said that before the press conference he met with Lee Po, another of the five booksellers, who told him that he was “taken away against his will." That's at odds with Lee's March statement, when he said he went to mainland "voluntarily" to assist the investigation on the bookstore.

Lam's girlfriend remains in mainland China on bail, according to local Chinese-language outlet The Initium.