Updated: Tuesday, June 21, 2016
On Friday, June 17, the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, and the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom praised Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee for revealing details of his illegal imprisonment by Chinese authorities and for refusing to identify customers in China who purchased books that are critical of Chinese officials. At a press conference in Hong Kong on Friday, Lam confirmed that he and four other employees of Mighty Current, a book publisher, and its bookstore, the Causeway Bay Bookstore, were illegally detained last year and held incommunicado on the Chinese mainland. Lam, the bookstore manager, was allowed to return to Hong Kong this week when he promised to retrieve records of Chinese customers of Mighty Current and give them to authorities.
Since the disappearance of the booksellers last year, it was widely suspected that they had been kidnapped. Chinese officials confirmed that the men were in China but insisted that they were there voluntarily, assisting authorities in “investigations.” When three of the men later returned to Hong Kong, they denied that they had been held against their will. But at Friday’s press conference, Lam confirmed that he had been detained in October when he arrived in China on a trip. He was blindfolded and put on a train that took him to a distant province where he was interrogated about the sale of Mighty Current books to residents of the mainland. For five months, he was held in a small room under 24-hour guard. He said that a string was attached to his toothbrush to ensure that he couldn’t use it to commit suicide.
During the course of his imprisonment, Lam was shown records of the customers of the Causeway Bay Bookstore and asked to identify those who had purchased books published by Mighty Current. “I didn’t dare tell them about the readers because I was worried that those readers would be implicated, and then they would think that Hongkongers — or I — had betrayed them. But I didn’t do so,” Lam said at the press conference. He added, “I also want to tell the whole world. This isn’t about me, this isn’t about a bookstore, this is about everyone. This is the bottom line of the Hong Kong people. This is Hongkongers’ bottom line — Hongkongers will not bow down before brute force.”
America’s booksellers, publishers, and librarians expressed their deep admiration for Lam and his defense of the right of the Chinese people to read the books they want. “We join him in condemning the Chinese government for its illegal arrest and detention of people engaged in the publication and sale of books,” the groups said in a statement. "In addition, we demand the speedy release of Gui Minhai, the last Mighty Current employee in custody, and call on Hong Kong authorities to protect the Hong Kong booksellers from further retribution by the Chinese government.”
On Sunday, June 19, the South China Morning Post reported that two of Lam’s Mighty Current colleagues were disputing statements he made during his press conference. In addition, Lam’s girlfriend, who lives in China and is also under investigation for distributing books illegally, reportedly contradicted Lam’s statement that he and she had been denied legal counsel.
Lam subsequently acknowledged that he had wrongly stated that his Mighty Current colleague Lee Po had told him that he had been kidnapped from Hong Kong and taken to mainland China. Lam said he had inferred it from Lee’s tone of voice during their conversation.
However, Lam stood by his statements that had been challenged by two other Mighty Current employees who disappeared and later turned up in China. He said his colleagues were not telling the truth because they were afraid of retaliation by Chinese authorities against members of their families who live in China.
Lam did not respond directly to his girlfriend’s claims that he had tricked her into participating in the illegal sale of books. “I do not want to confront her as she would not be able to hear what I say on the mainland,” Lam said. “She could not say things voluntarily there, so I don’t want to bring further trouble to her. I hope she would be treated leniently on the mainland.”