Bookseller’s associates challenge his account

Source: NYT (6/19/16)
Hong Kong Bookseller Finds Associates Challenging His Account of Detention


Lam Wing-kee in Hong Kong, on Sunday, three days after saying that he was abducted by mainland police in October, held in solitary confinement and denied legal representation. Former colleagues and a woman claiming to be his girlfriend have disavowed his claims. Credit: Vincent Yu/Associated Press

HONG KONG — Adopting the mantle of a whistle-blower rarely comes without consequences. Edward J. Snowden is in exile in Russia for leaking secrets of the National Security Agency. Michael Winston, who gained fame for exposing Countrywide Financial’s mortgage policies, spent years battling lawsuits. Now, in Hong Kong, it is Lam Wing-kee’s turn to feel the heat.

Many people in Hong Kong consider Mr. Lam a hero. His dramatic recounting on Thursday of his apprehension by the Chinese police, his forced confession and months of detention for committing an act that is not a crime in his native Hong Kong — selling politically sensitive books filled with gossip and speculation about China’s leaders — led thousands of people to come out on the streets on Saturday to show their support for him.

But people close to him, including his former colleagues and a woman who says she is his girlfriend, are now making public rebuttals about what he said, in accounts published by Sing Tao Daily, a pro-Beijing newspaper. In the case of the girlfriend — identified only by her surname, Hu — the criticism is stinging.

Ms. Hu, 37, interviewed by Sing Tao in mainland China, said Mr. Lam had deceived her into mailing banned books to customers in the mainland, which she said she had not known was a crime. She also said in the interview, which was published on Sunday, that “cursed Lam is not a man” and that, contrary to what he had told the news media, the Chinese authorities did not deny him legal representation.

On Saturday, the same newspaper published interviews with two of the other detained booksellers, Lui Por and Cheung Chi-ping, who both disputed Mr. Lam’s claim that televised confessions from this year in which they tearfully admitted to illegal book sales in China had been scripted by the mainland police. Mr. Cheung was quoted by the paper as saying, “I had no idea that Lam Wing-kee was such a dishonest person.”

Their comments followed similar rebuttals by another of Mr. Lam’s former colleagues, Lee Bo. Mr. Lee is arguably the most famous of the booksellers, because it was his disappearance from a Hong Kong neighborhood in late December that brought the story of the missing booksellers to a global audience. On Friday, Mr. Lee again reiterated that he had, contrary to what Mr. Lam had said, voluntarily traveled to the mainland to help the police there with a case.

A fifth person connected with the Hong Kong bookseller saga, Gui Minhai, was plucked from his seaside condo in Thailand. He remains in mainland police custody and has not commented on Mr. Lam’s statements.

Albert Ho, a Hong Kong lawyer and pro-democracy lawmaker, represented Mr. Snowden during his time in Hong Kong in 2013. On Thursday afternoon, his secretary received notice that Mr. Lam had called him and wanted to meet.

Mr. Lam had been planning to head back to the mainland under an agreement with the Chinese police but suddenly decided to go public with an account of his time in custody.

Mr. Ho does not, at present, serve as Mr. Lam’s lawyer, but it was in a conference room near Mr. Ho’s office in the legislative building that Mr. Lam gave his news conference.

Hong Kong, despite having returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, operates under a separate legal system and does not have an extradition agreement with the mainland.

Mr. Ho said the reaction of Mr. Lam’s girlfriend and former colleagues was “as expected” because of the tremendous pressure that, he said, the Chinese police place on their relatives. The public nature of Mr. Lam’s revelations — before more than 80 journalists — contrasted sharply with the highly controlled, terse statements given to a pro-Beijing newspaper, Mr. Ho said by telephone.

“The other people, they looked timid, they look shy in appearing before reporters — they only gave their version to certain very selective, biased media,” Mr. Ho said. “I think common sense will tell the Hong Kong people which version is true.”

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