23 October 2016
Bookseller Lam Wing-kee, who is wanted by mainland authorities, told RTHK that he may move to Taiwan if he continues to fear for his safety in Hong Kong. Photo: RTHK
Bookseller Lam Wing-kee, who is wanted by mainland authorities, told RTHK that he may move to Taiwan if he continues to fear for his safety in Hong Kong. Photo: RTHK

Govt faces new test amid the Lam Wing-kee saga

After denying claims by Lam Wing-kee that he was facing a threat to his personal safety, Hong Kong authorities have finally agreed to provide the bookseller with police protection.

But that doesn’t seem to have reassured the 61-year-old man, who has complained after returning from the mainland last month that some unknown people had been tailing him.

Lam told the media that he might consider moving to Taiwan if he continues to fear for his safety or if the situation becomes so severe that he has live under constant police guard.  

The comments came as Chinese authorities have asked Lam to return to the mainland to assist in investigations over the sale of banned books in the country.

If Lam, who was allowed to travel to Hong Kong in late June after an eight-month detention in China, doesn’t return to the mainland, he will be breaching the bail conditions and will face tougher punishment, Ningbo police have warned. 

Beijing, meanwhile, has also been putting pressure on the Hong Kong government to hand Lam back to China for investigation.

Aware that any such move will trigger a volley of criticism and a storm of protests among locals, the Hong Kong government has assured that it won’t send back the bookseller.

Security Secretary Lai Tung-kwok said there is “no legal arrangement for the transfer of persons to the mainland authorities” as Hong Kong doesn’t have an extradition agreement with China.

Despite the assurance, Lam feels he still faces a threat of abduction by mainland agents and being ferried across the border.

The fears are not surprising, given the incidents involving Lam and his fellow booksellers over the past year.

Lam and four other associates from Causeway Bay Books, a Hong Kong bookstore that offered titles critical of China and its leaders, disappeared last year.

Later, it came to light that they were detained in the mainland or were caught up in investigations there.

Lam returned to Hong Kong last month and claimed that he was kidnapped while on the mainland and held in custody.

Now he is being asked to return to China, but the bookseller says he has no intention of doing so, given the ordeal he underwent for many months at the hands of mainland authorities. 

With Beijing putting pressure, the Hong Kong government has been in a bind.

But in the end, officials took the right decision, realizing that handing over Lam would have meant a violation of the “one country two systems” framework. 

The critical issue now is ensuring that the police protection for Lam is effective, while at the same time also keeping it low profile.

With Lam warning that he might consider moving to Taiwan if he perceives further threats to his safety, Hong Kong police and the government are under a test. 

Local authorities may find it difficult to intervene in the police case in the mainland as the matter is totally controlled by law enforcement bodies of the central government and the Communist Party.

However, that doesn’t mean the Leung Chun-ying regime can do nothing and just stay silent as Beijing plays a ridiculous game on Lam and his fellow booksellers.

On Tuesday, when a Hong Kong delegation visited Beijing for talks on a notification mechanism for cross-border police cases, Chinese public security officials played video clips that were purportedly shot during Lam’s detention in Ningbo.

One of the clips showed Lam admitting to breaching Chinese laws in relation to sale of books to mainland readers.

The video clips were shown to Hong Kong officials in a bid to pressure them into handing over Lam back to China.

Hong Kong authorities have so far made the right noises on the Lam issue, but will they stand up to Beijing even in the future? This is something that needs to be watched.

If Lam actually decides to move to Taiwan, it will represent a vote of no-confidence on the “one country two systems”.

Despite the brave talk on protecting Lam, the sad truth is that local officials have failed to display enough courage and tell Beijing that Lam and his fellow booksellers have done nothing wrong.

Authorities have failed to convince Beijing to respect Hong Kong’s legal system and the city’s way of doing business. 

Following the Causeway Bay Books saga, the Chinese government has now launched a nationwide crackdown on Chinese citizens who buy Hong Kong and Taiwan books via online platforms.

According to a Weibo post Wednesday, a Chinese reader who bought a copy of a book written by renowned author Tung Chiao was questioned at home by the mainland police and accused of breaching the law.

Although Tung’s publications are mostly non-political, his works have been banned by Beijing, the author told Apple Daily.

There are reports that China has tapped into the computer systems of online book stores for information on Chinese buyers of books published overseas.

Amid such cultural crackdown, it is important for Hong Kong authorities to assure publishing houses based in the city that their interests will be protected and that they won’t face trouble if their books land in the hands of mainland readers.

Is anyone listening?

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EJ Insight writer

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