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Guardian: China behaving like 'gangster' state with bookseller kidnap, say Hong Kong politicians

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Guardian
By Tom Phillips in Beijing
Friday 17 June 2016 00.28 EDT

■ Calls for Beijing to behave in accordance with law after Lam Wing-kee reveals he was abducted by Chinese special forces

Pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong have accused Beijing of political thuggery after a local bookseller claimed he had been kidnapped by Chinese “special forces” as part of a coordinated bid to silence criticism of China’s Communist leadership.

Lam Wing-kee, one of five Hong Kong publishers to mysteriously disappear last year, made the explosive claims on Thursday night at a hastily arranged press conference in the former British colony.

Lam, the 61-year-old manager of the Causeway Bay bookstore, claimed he had spent months in solitary confinement in a cramped cell after being snatched by a group of men as he entered mainland China in October 2015.

Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee tells a press conference
how he was abducted by Chinese special forces. Photograph:
Jerome Favre/EPA
“They blindfolded me and put a cap on my head and basically bundled me up,” Lam told reporters.

Lam claimed Chinese agents had forced him to confess to crimes he had not committed during his detention. He said he had decided to speak out after thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Hong Kong to protest the booksellers’ disappearances.

“Hongkongers will not bow down before brute force,” Lam said.

Lam’s unexpected decision to go public reignited simmering anger over what increasingly looks like a Communist party-led crackdown on the publishers who specialised in salacious tomes about the private lives of top Chinese leaders.

Four other booksellers, including British citizen Lee Po and Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, also went missing during the campaign which began last October. Gui, who disappeared from a holiday home in Thailand, remains in custody in mainland China while the other three, while nominally free, are thought to be living under duress from Chinese authorities.

Amnesty International urged China to “end its lies” over the bookseller scandal in the wake of Lam’s disclosures.

Mabel Au, the group’s Hong Kong director, said his statement showed Chinese authorities had mounted a “concerted operation” to silence the booksellers. “The Chinese authorities must come clean and admit the truth,” she added.

Speaking on Friday, as demonstrators began taking to the streets of the former colony, prominent pro-democracy leaders urged Hong Kong citizens to protest.

Claudia Mo, an outspoken Civic party lawmaker, told the Guardian that Lam’s “bombshell” revelations left Hong Kong’s much treasured autonomy from the authoritarian mainland hanging by a thread.

“It’s now obvious to everyone that the so-called ‘one country, two systems’ promise is completely in tatters,” she said. “We need to stand firm and stand tall and really fight back.”

“This is not just an ordinary detention,” she said of Lam’s rendition. “This is literally a kidnapping by Beijing authorities.”

“They behave like some mob… They are just political thugs. They behave like gangsters... and it is very worrying. Whatever happened to the basic decency and dignity that we expect from government?”

Emily Lau, the chairwoman of Hong Kong’s Democratic party, told the Guardian China’s alleged abduction of the bookseller was “very barbaric and totally unacceptable”.

She said the revelations showed China to be a place of “complete lawlessness”.

“If the Chinese government wants to join the international community as a respected member it must behave in such a way. Otherwise it will just bring disdain and scorn upon itself,” Lau added.

“[Beijing] must come out and condemn such behaviour and to assure the world that it will not happen again… They must respect the rule of law and respect the rights of their own people.”

Jason Ng, a Hong Kong-based writer, said Lam’s statement “confirms everything we already suspect and know about the Chinese Communist party. The [party’s] lies have blown up in their faces.”

Ng, the author of a book about the 2014 umbrella movement demonstrations, said he believed Lam’s revelations would galvanise the city’s protest movement. “The opposition has been split and society polarised. This incident unites us.” They might also influence on September’s elections, boosting the chances of pro-democracy candidates and damaging those of pro-Beijing ones.

China has yet to respond to Lam Wing-kee’s allegations which could not be independently verified. However, Beijing has previously claimed that the booksellers voluntarily travelled to mainland China to assist with a Chinese police investigation.

Activists, observers and many foreign diplomats scoff at that suggestion. Many view the disappearances as part of growing campaign by President Xi Jinping’s administration to silence dissent beyond China’s own borders.

On Friday a spokesperson for the UK Foreign Office said it remained “deeply concerned” about the situation of Lee Po whose “involuntary removal to the mainland was a serious breach” of Hong Kong’s autonomy.

The Swedish embassy in Beijing said it was aware of Lam’s claims that he had been abducted.

“The information surrounding the disappearances of Gui Minhai’s colleagues, including recent developments, is alarming and we emphasize this in our contacts with Chinese authorities,” a spokesperson said. “The Embassy has repeatedly requested a new meeting with Gui Minhai, but no such request has been granted since [24 February].”

“Our efforts to reach clarity in what has happened to, and is happening to, Swedish citizen Gui Minhai continue unabated,” the spokesperson added.

Claudia Mo said she feared for Lam’s safety following his “heroic” decision to speak out in defiance of Beijing. “I’m very worried they would try to get rid of him in some way,” she said.

Emily Lau said the saga had left citizens of the former colony on edge.

“It happened to Mr Lee and to Mr Lam. Tomorrow it can happen to Mrs Chan and to Mr Wong and the list goes on,” she said. “People are very, very frightened. You must tell the world that.”


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