Lam Wing-kee likely to seek asylum in Taiwan or US

July 11, 2016 11:36
Bookseller Lam Wing-kee said there's "50-50 chance" he will seek an asylum in Taiwan. Photo: HKEJ

Unhappy with the protection provided by the Hong Kong police and traumatized by his eight months of detention in the mainland, bookseller Lam Wing-kee is likely to seek asylum in Taiwan or the United States.

In an interview last Thursday, Lam said there's a “50-50 chance” he will opt to go to Taiwan.

“The police cannot protect me for the rest of my life. The government in Taiwan is a democratically elected one, unlike in mainland China,” he said.

Such a move became more likely after senior members of the SAR government went to Beijing to meet China's Minister of Public Security Guo Shengkun.

Guo showed them videos of Lam in captivity and said that he should return to Ningbo, insisting that the mainland has jurisdiction over his case.

Lam's life changed when at a railway station on his way to the mainland, he decided not to return to Shenzhen with computer software containing the names of those who had bought the "banned books" he was asked to produce, and threw away the mobile phone given to him by his mainland minders.

Instead, he decided to go public with his experiences in detention, along with his account of what happened to his four associates who were also detained in the mainland.

This caused an uproar in Hong Kong.  It also catapulted him to the top of Beijing’s wanted list.

It did not want any of the five booksellers to tell the world how it treated "Hong Kong compatriots" and further widen the gap between them and "the motherland".

In describing his captivity, Lam did everyone in Hong Kong a service – but not to himself.

If he had remained silent and closed his business, the mainland would have let him be; he would have disappeared from public view.

Instead, he was, he said, followed by four strangers on June 29 on the way to what was supposed to be a secure hiding place.

Initially, Hong Kong police declined to provide him protection but later changed their mind.

“From Beijing’s point of view, Lam has committed crimes in the mainland. He brought the books to Shenzhen, from where he sent them to readers. He opened a mainland bank account, into which buyers paid 400,000 yuan (US$59,800),” said Chen Liang, a business consultant.

“From the point of view of Hong Kong people and westerners, the content of the books is no big deal – accounts of Xi Dada’s personal and love life and power struggles within the Communist Party," he said.

"But the mainland takes them very seriously, as insulting and defaming the president. That is a matter of national security. Beijing has left open a door for Lam. He should go through the door and leave Hong Kong.”

Lam quoted Lee Bo, the bookseller who was apparently abducted from Hong Kong in December, as saying that the campaign against this part of the publishing industry here was being conducted by a "special committee".

These committees are set up by the central government on an ad hoc basis, to deal with specific issues.

They do not fall under the Minister of State Security, the Ministry of Public Security and the other bodies that must notify the SAR government if they are detaining its citizens.

Its mission is to shut down companies here that publish unauthorized books about national leaders, to dissuade bookshops here from selling them and find out who provided the information on which they are based.

This often comes from people within the government and the Communist Party who want to blacken the names of their rivals.

It has achieved a good part of this mission. Small publishers have closed and mainstream bookshops have removed the titles from their shelves.

Those who want to buy them have to know the few outlets that still offer them. One is People’s Commune, opposite Times Square.

“It is legal in Hong Kong to publish and sell these books,” said one of its sales staff. “We plan to continue our business.”

Mainland police have also obtained from internet sites the names and addresses of the buyers and gone to visit them.

All this leaves Lam very exposed. Since he has become a public figure on the mainland’s wanted list, many employers in Hong Kong will refuse to hire him.

He himself feels insecure and under surveillance.

The Hong Kong government has promised not to hand him over in the absence of an extradition treaty with Beijing.

But he fears a repeat of the Lee Bo abduction or attacks against him by mainland agents here or those hired by them. He fears that his telephone and emails are being monitored.

For the SAR government, the best outcome would be for him to leave, removing an irritant in its relations with Beijing.

His public accounts of his captivity give him a strong case for political asylum.

Taiwan and the US are the most likely choices. I believe he will choose one of them.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.