Hong Kong has been captivated by the saga of the five booksellers from Causeway Bay Bookstore since co-owner Lam Wing-ki made some shocking revelations on TV last week.
Lam said he was arrested and detained in the mainland for eight months for sending banned books.
But his account of how fellow-bookseller Lee Bo was taken away by mysterious mainlanders “against his will” created new controversy after the latter contradicted it.
In a Facebook post the next day, Lee dismissed Lam’s account as completely inaccurate, saying he went back to China “entirely of my own accord”.
Mainland authorities, the Hong Kong government and the pro-establishment camp are lining up behind Lee.
Their position is that Lee’s case is not a cross-border law enforcement issue because he returned to the mainland voluntarily.
They insist that Lam’s situation is different because he broke Chinese law, so why the fuss?
While the debate over whether Lee was lying continues, what happened to Lam is alarming and deserving public attention. It dealt a serious blow to “one country, two systems”.
Hong Kong people know that under that governing principle, they cannot be prosecuted in the mainland as long as they have not broken any Chinese law, even though they might have done something in Hong Kong that is considered illegal in the mainland.
Simply put, no Hong Kong citizen should be worried about being arrested in China for something they have done back home that is deemed illegal under Chinese law.
The common law system in Hong Kong is different from that in the mainland. Beijing must acknowledge and respect that difference.
According to Lam, he was arrested in Shenzhen for publishing books banned in China but which are not illegal in Hong Kong and for sending them to subscribers in the mainland.
But the act of mailing them is not illegal in Hong Kong, he said.
If Lam’s case is accepted as a legal precedent by Chinese courts, it would spell the demise of “one country, two systems”.
Imagine if Lam’s case applied to all Hong Kong citizens. Does it mean a journalist in Hong Kong who has done an investigative story on Beijing’s crackdown on dissent could be arrested in the mainland for spreading rumors?
Does it mean a Hong Kong student who has openly called for secession from the mainland could be arrested for high treason if he sets foot in the mainland?
Call me paranoid but I am not the only one with such grave concern.
Winnie Tam, chairperson of the Hong Kong Bar Association, said if Lam’s story is true, our worst nightmare has arrived.
If publishing and mailing politically incorrect books to the mainland is illegal, we had better ask Beijing to clarify what else we are not allowed to do.
Beijing should tell us whether what applies to Lam also applies to every one of us and also if the chief executive is obligated to raise the matter with the Chinese authorities and report back to us.
What is frustrating and outrageous is that Leung Chun-ying has done nothing to defend our rights.
What happened to the booksellers is not an isolated case. It is a matter of life and death for “one country, two systems”.
If we remain silent, we can almost be certain that it will be only a matter of time before we see the next Lee Bo or Lam Wing-kee.
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This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 22
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]