Earlier this week Lam Wing Kee, 61, spoke out about his recent kidnapping and imprisonment by Chinese ‘special forces’ from October 2015 to early June 2016. By the end of 2015 five Hong Kong booksellers had gone missing, in a series of events that have raised international concern for both the level of freedom of expression in Hong Kong, and its autonomy from mainland China.
The South China Morning Post reports that all five of the missing booksellers were linked to ‘Mighty Current’, a publishing house that produces books which are critical of the Chinese Communist Party. The controversial and hugely popular books scandalised Chinese political leaders and are banned within mainland China, but are legal and accessible to tourists in Hong Kong.
Mr. Lam was the manager of a well-known bookstore in the bustling shopping district of Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. The BBC reports that Mr. Lam was arrested while visiting the Chinese city of Shenzhen. He was then blindfolded and taken to the city of Ningbo until March, and later transferred to the city of Shaoguan, before his release and return back to Hong Kong after nine months imprisonment.
The abductions are thought to be the work of an elite law enforcement group, but Chinese officials deny allegations that the booksellers were taken to China against their will in an extra-judicial process. Despite this, the BBC reports that after his arrest, Mr. Lam was accused of attempting to overthrow the Chinese government by mailing controversial and illegal anti Communist Party books and media to the mainland.
The Chinese authorities have been accused of showing a total contempt for due process and the rule of law in a statement from Amnesty International, after Chinese police confirmed that three of the five men were in their custody and had been investigated. The suspicious circumstances under which both Mr. Lam and the other booksellers went missing was explained by the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Leung Chun Ying, who stated that it would be a violation of the Basic Law for the mainland to make an arrest in the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong.
In a recent statement to the BBC, Mr. Lam reported that he had contemplated suicide on multiple occasions whilst imprisoned, as he endured months of solitary confinement, interrogations and psychological torture. Shockingly, the owner of the bookstore Gui Min Hai, is still imprisoned.
The disappearances of the booksellers coincides with the imminent publication of a controversial book about the private life of Xi Jing Ping, the president of China, and titled ‘Xi Jingping and His Lovers’. The author of the book, who goes by the name Xi Nuo, stated that the book was published online to challenge China and that the booksellers should not be held responsible. The BBC reports that the rise in production of these critical and political books began in the mid 1990s, and coincided with an increase in overseas travel of wealthy mainland Chinese, with whom the books are hugely popular.
The return of Mr. Lam and his unabashed ousting of his experiences marks a shocking exposé of the reality of censorship and governmental control in China. The freedom of expression of people in Hong Kong is protected by the “one country, two systems” principle, which allows Hong Kong to enjoy high degrees of autonomy from China. However, these recent kidnappings lead one to question the degree to which Hong Kong, as a Special Administrative Region, is actually free from the political control of the mainland.
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