Bookseller Lam Wing-kee, abducted by Chinese authorities for selling politically sensitive books in Hong Kong, addresses the 10th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.
On Chinese persecution of Hong Kong booksellers:
“From October to December 2015, shareholders and staff members of the Causeway Bay Books disappeared one after another.”
“I was placed in solitary confinement for interrogation for six months.”
“The Causeway Bay Books disappearances and what happened to Minhai Gui have shown that despite China’s economic prosperity, its idea of human rights is still lagging behind.”
Full Remarks (English and Cantonese)
First of all, I would like to thank the Geneva Summit*, on behalf of my colleagues who have been implicated in the Causeway Bay Books incident. They are still under surveillance and not able to attend this event. I’m here to report how Chinese government violated its pledge to respect the “One country, Two system” policy – its promise to Hong Kongese.
From October to December in 2015, shareholders and staff members of the Causeway Bay Books disappeared one after another. The Chinese government is allegedly responsible for these illegal cross-border abductions. I was placed in solitary confinement for interrogation for six months, after which I was sent back to Hong Kong to close the case regarding my disappearance. I was asked to bring back to Hong Kong my hard disc, containing a subscription list of 400 Chinese readers, as an evidence to sue them all. It is evident that the Chinese government has violated its constitutional law that guarantees the freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the freedom to read, for its people.
In March 2016, before I was transferred to Shaoguan where I was put under residential surveillance, I arranged a meeting with Bo Li (Translator’s note: Shareholder), Bo Lv (Translator’s note: General manager) and Zhiping Zhang (Translator’s note: Sales Manager). I learned that they have been detained and interrogated under threat. They were charged with “illegal business operations” and were about to be prosecuted. Deprived of the right to defend themselves, they were to be sentenced to five to ten years of imprisonment, without a trial.
On 14th of June, I was released on parole and returned to Hong Kong. I learned from news on the Internet that Minhai Gui (Translator’s note: Shareholder) had been detained. I realized that this incident does not simply concern the five of us. If what had happened to us were to be covered, the Chinese government would continue to commit crimes like these abductions, that infringe on the safety and freedom of Hong Kongese. On the same day, when I was retrieving the computer from Bo Li, he told me that he was forcibly taken to Shenzhen in December 2015 by several people who come from Mainland China, and was found missing.
I then got back to the hotel. I looked at the computer which was wrapped in newspapers and plastic bags, and tried to set my mind on whether to make this public. I could not decide. I knew that my colleagues have relatives in Mainland China and even if they got released in the future, they would remain silent on this in order to protect their families. What made me hesitate even more was the order for me to bring the computer back to China, which meant that I would be giving other people away. I also learned from Bo Li that the Chinese Government bought the bookstore through an agent in November 2015, and intended to force me to stay to spy on those who come to buy books and report to the government. This idea deeply troubled me.
Fortunately, an opportunity turned up. When I opened the wrap, I found out that it was not the right computer. There were three computers in the bookstore, but the one brought to me through Bo Li was not the one I used to keep the subscription list. I thought to myself that if I were to pretend that I did not know it was not the computer of interest and just bring it back, I would be able to protect my customers, while I would face severe consequences myself. As a Chinese old saying goes “make it slow, think it through and you will find the solution”, I stalled until the midnight before I finally told the guard that it was not the right computer, so that they did not have enough time to react and had to stay for an extra day. I thus got more time to decide what to do.
The next day, as instructed, I went to Bo Li’s office to switch for the right computer. He mentioned the abduction to me again and I found his wife still in a lingering fear. On the day Bo went missing, she found his traveling permit to Mainland China in a drawer at home but not with him. I went back to the hotel that night and browsed through the news coverage on the internet. I still couldn’t decide on whether I should go public. I travelled to the north the next day. I had to think about it again when I was transfering. I walked out of the subway, had three cigarettes, and thought it all out. I am a Hong Kongese who grew up under the British governance and have universal values. The Chinese Government should be condemned for committing abductions and violating human rights. I finally decided to change my route and go to the media to publicize the whole story and seek justice.
Up to now, Bo Li has the freedom to travel but his communications are still under surveillance. Bo Lv and Zhiping Zhang have been forced to remain in China after their return to Hong Kong in March 2016. I am still wanted by the police and sometimes followed. I also intend to re-open the bookstore. Minhai Gui was imprisoned for two years and got released last year. However, he was held in detention in Ningbo until a few months ago when he was arrested again as he attempted to leave the country.
The Causeway Bay Books disappearances and what happened to Minhai Gui have shown that despite China’s economic prosperity, its idea of human rights is still lagging behind. Again, I would like to thank the Geneva Summit for its continuous attention to human right situation in Hong Kong and Mainland China, as well as its effort in helping China develop into a truly modern civilized nation.
Thank you all so much.