Thu, Jul 07, 2016 - Page 6 News List

HK police offer bookseller protection

CHINESE WARNING:Lam Wing-kei was supposed to return to the mainland after being released to Hong Kong on bail last month, but the 61-year-old has refused to do so

AFP, HONG KONG

Hong Kong police yesterday offered protection to a bookseller who was detained in China for eight months without access to a lawyer, as Beijing warned that he was violating his bail terms.

Lam Wing-kei (林榮基) was seized after crossing the border into China and taken away blindfolded for allegedly taking banned books to the mainland, he said last month.

The 61-year-old is the manager of Causeway Bay Books, which sold salacious titles about leading Chinese politicians.

He is one of five men linked to the store or the Mighty Current publishing house who mysteriously went missing late last year and later emerged in China, intensifying concerns in Hong Kong about Beijing’s increasingly tight grasp on the territory.

Since returning to Hong Kong, Lam has said he fears for his personal safety, while other activists have alleged that Chinese agents abducted one of the other booksellers on Hong Kong soil.

Although the territory has the status of a special administrative region of China, the two have separate legal systems, distinct police jurisdictions and maintain strict border controls.

The case has fanned anxieties that the fiercely guarded liberties are being eroded.

Lam is the only one of the five booksellers to speak openly about the case and has suggested the other four feel too much pressure from China to do the same.

He was supposed to return to the mainland after being released to Hong Kong on bail last month, but has refused to do so.

The case has put China-friendly Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) in a very awkward position, trapped between his political masters in Beijing and Hong Kong residents angry about the territory’s direction.

“The government and I are paying close attention to the issue of Lam Wing-kei’s concerns for his personal safety,” Leung told reporters yesterday.

Hong Kong and China have no extradition treaty, meaning there is no obligation for the Hong Kong authorities to hand Lam back to China even if he is violating the terms of his bail.

Hong Kong Police Deputy Commissioner Tony Wong (黃志雄) said officers were willing to offer Lam police protection “if he wishes it.”

Activists have alleged that Chinese security agents are operating in the territory, which would be illegal under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

Lam had been due to lead a pro-democracy march last week on the anniversary of the territory’s handover from Britain to China, but pulled out at the last minute, saying that he had been followed prior to the rally.

FORCED CONFESSION

The police comments came after a new video released by Chinese authorities featured him in detention saying: “I am very regretful because I have broken Chinese laws.”

Lam has previously said he was forced into making the confession.

Chinese authorities have warned Lam that he was violating his bail terms and that he could face tougher action as a result, media reports said.

Leung said a team of senior officials who visited Beijing on Tuesday discussed Lam’s case and reviewed the mechanism whereby authorities on the mainland are required to give details about arrests of Hong Kong residents over the border.

Leung said the visit was productive, with both sides agreeing that mainland authorities should notify their Hong Kong counterparts of arrests and detentions within 14 days.

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