HONG KONG: A Hong Kong bookseller who said he was blindfolded, interrogated and detained in China led a protest march Saturday defying Beijing as pressure grows for authorities to answer questions over the case.
Lam Wing-kee is one of five booksellers who went missing last year—all worked for a publisher known for salacious titles about leading Chinese politicians.
The case heightened fears that Beijing was tightening its grip on semi-autonomous Hong Kong, with Lam’s explosive revelations earlier this week about how he had been detained in China further fanning many residents’ concerns.
Lam told Agence France-Presse Saturday that he did not feel afraid after breaking bail, refusing to return to the mainland and breaking silence on his detention.
“I don’t feel scared because there are so many people here,” said Lam, surrounded by more than 1,000 supporters who had gathered in Hong Kong to protest against his detention and to demand answers from the city’s authorities over the booksellers’ case.
“I’m happy to be back in Hong Kong.”
He added that he had been contacted by the city’s police but had not yet responded to them. He would give no detail about where he was now living.
Leading the rally, he shouted slogans including “Say no to authority!” and “Hong Kong has a bottom line!”
The protesters, carrying banners saying “Fight until the very end” are marching from the Causeway Bay Bookstore, the business at the center of the controversy, to China’s liaison office.
In a surprise press conference Thursday Lam told how he had been blindfolded and transported north after crossing the border into the mainland to visit his girlfriend in October.
Lam said he was kept in a room, interrogated for months and forced to sign away his right to a lawyer or contact with his family.
He also described how he recited a scripted confession broadcast on Chinese state television, admitting to trading banned books, out of fear.
Pro-democracy lawmakers are demanding to know what Hong Kong authorities have done to help the booksellers, accusing them of being a puppet of Beijing.
They say China has violated the semi-autonomous system under which the city is ruled.
Protester Simon Chan, 60, said it was time for people to speak up.
“If we don’t voice out, then this will just continue and we will be very scared,” he told Agence France-Presse.
Beijing has refused to be drawn on Lam’s accusations, saying only that it is entitled to pursue the case as he broke mainland Chinese laws.
Hong Kong authorities have expressed “concern”, saying they are attempting to speak to Lam.
Pro-democracy lawmakers are urging the government to admit what it knows about the case.
“I request that the government clearly explain what they have done to help Lam or the other Causeway Bay bookstore workers in these past eight months. If they don’t, then they’re not our government,” said legislator Frederick Fung.
In an editorial Saturday, the South China Morning Post, which has recently been criticized for being too Beijing-friendly, also demanded both sides “come clean”.
Lam said he was allowed to return to Hong Kong on Tuesday on condition that he go back over the border Thursday, bringing with him a hard disk listing bookstore customers. He says he did not want to hand over the records and decided to speak out instead.
Lam is one of four booksellers under investigation on the mainland for trading banned books in China.
The fifth, Lee Bo, the only bookseller to disappear on Hong Kong soil, has said he is simply helping with enquiries and is currently back in the city.
He has refuted Lam’s claims that Lee told him he had been taken to the mainland against his will.