What you need to know
Political activists in Hong Kong have taken to the streets after a bookseller broke the silence on his time spent in captivity in China.
Bookseller Lam Wing Kee (林榮基), who returned to Hong Kong this week after months being held in China, yesterday told media he was detained at the border at Shenzhen in October, travelled through southern China blindfolded, and later held under close watch for months.
Lam, one of five booksellers who disappeared late last year, warned that Hong Kong journalists could suffer a similar fate.
“For five months, I was locked in a room of about 200 square-feet, less than 300 square-feet. For 24 hours, six groups of people took turns watching me. I lost my freedom,” he said. “[The disappearances] can happen to you too for sure. If we don’t speak up, if I don’t speak up – being the least [vulnerable] of the five — then there is no hope for Hong Kong.”
The men, who worked at a Causeway Bay bookshop known for selling material that criticized China, all reappeared in China, and told media they were collaborating in an investigation voluntarily. Other local bookstores have reportedly removed similar publications from their shelves.
As The New York Times reports, while “Lam’s assertions could not be immediately confirmed, his revelations contradicted Beijing’s claims that the booksellers had voluntarily entered the mainland to cooperate with an investigation by the Chinese authorities.”
Protesters march on Beijing’s Hong Kong office
Nathan Law (羅冠聰) was one of the student leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Movement and now one of the leaders of a new party, Demosistō. The party’s members were among the protesters who marched to Beijing’s "Liaison Office" in Hong Kong today in protest of the booksellers’ case.
In a video statement released on Facebook, Law said the party was “deeply worried Hong Kong people are no longer living in a safe city.”
“The Communist Party of China is taking people to wherever they want and whenever they like,” Law says. “This is not only about booksellers; it is about everyone in Hong Kong.”
Law urged Hong Kong to stand up to the “authoritarian regime,” and added that the Hong Kong government still had responsibility to investigate the events and protect the victims. He also appealed to the international community to “closely monitor” the situation, including the safety of Lam, the other booksellers and their families.
“We hope you will stand by us, and stand firm with us,” Law concluded.
The Civic Party — one of Hong Kong’s establishment pro-democracy parties — has described the case of another bookseller, Lee Bo (李波), as an “illegal cross-border arrest.”
The party will “continue to raise our concerns” about the booksellers’ cases, a Civic Party spokesperson told The News Lens International (TNLI).
A spokesperson for the Hong Kong National Party, a new pro-independence political group, told TNLI the party insists on an “equal level” of diplomacy with China, “in order to assure the safety and interests of Hong People.”
'Grave' human rights concerns
The European Union in late April released its annual report on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The report noted 2015 was “politically challenging” for Hong Kong “and for the functioning of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.”
In addition to highlighting that Hong Kong’s Legislative Council voted down the proposal to introduce universal suffrage for the election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive from 2017, the report said the booksellers case raised “grave concerns over human rights” and is the “most serious challenge to Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the ‘one country, two systems’ principle since Hong Kong’s handover to the PRC in 1997.”
“The circumstances of the disappearances were suspicious; the fifth person who disappeared from Hong Kong SAR territory seems to have been abducted,” the report says, adding that two of the booksellers hold EU citizenship.
“The case has potentially lasting implications for Hong Kong’s rule of law and could impact on Hong Kong’s standing as an international business centre.”
Human Rights Watch's China director Sophie Richardson wrote in March that the details about the disappearances remained unclear.
“The pathologies seen across these cases — disappearances and arbitrary detention in China, sudden returns to Hong Kong, rejection of assistance by Hong Kong authorities, and subsequent returns to the mainland — raise many questions,” she wrote. “Why couldn’t or wouldn’t they provide details regarding their status, given the intense international scrutiny of the case? Why not ask for protection from Hong Kong authorities?”