Recently returned bookseller Lam Wing-kee has said that he was only allowed to return to Hong Kong from China if he agreed to travel back with a hard drive full of evidence from his book store. Lam – the founder of Causeway Bay Books, which sells political gossip titles banned in China – returned to the city on Tuesday. He was due to return to China on Thursday but held a surprise press conference at the legislature with lawmaker Albert Ho instead to expose what really happened during his eight month detention.

Lam Wing-kee.
Lam Wing-kee. Photo: Gene Lin/HKFP.

The hard drive demanded by the Chinese authorities contained sales records from the bookstore. Lam said that Lee Bo, another bookseller who returned to Hong Kong in March, copied a hard drive of customer records. Lam was asked to look through the records to identify customers.

The records include some 600 people, mostly mainlanders, and some 4,000 book titles.

“I was afraid my readers would be affected, that they would think Hong Kong people – or I – sold them out,” he said. “But I did not do so… Now they were doing something even worse – asking me to bring them a hard drive as evidence.”

banned books
Photo: Todd Darling/HKFP.

He said he was accompanied back to Hong Kong by two men. One was surnamed Chen – a “chief” – and another surnamed Shi. They separated after crossing the border as they could not be seen near him. He added that Shi treated him kindly but was not allowed to speak to him.

‘Touched’ by protests

Lam said that he could not read any information when he was in the mainland, and that he felt touched when he returned to Hong Kong and read that 6,000 supporters had marched for the release of the booksellers in January.

protest lee bo
Photo: Todd Darling/HKFP.

“I watched videos on my phone for two days,” he said. “I don’t know these 6,000 people – they spoke out for the five of us, our small bookstore – I am thankful.”

He said he was supposed to return to the mainland on Thursday and hand over the hard drive to a “central special unit.” However, after seeing the support from Hongkongers, he hesitated at the Kowloon Tong MTR station en route to the border.

See also: Bookseller’s testimony has ‘blown apart’ Beijing’s ‘lies’ on the missing publishers, says Amnesty

He said he spoke out after coming back because he was less burdened in that his family was not on the mainland. He said he had dinner with his sister and a phone conversation with his son upon returning to Hong Kong.

Lam Wing-kee
Lam Wing-kee. Photo: Gene Lin/HKFP.

Lam said that, on the day he was accosted on the mainland last October, he was originally planning to visit his girlfriend, who he met after living away from his family.

She was also detained on the mainland as she had helped him with sending “banned” books into China. She was released on bail.

“I am sorry for my girlfriend,” he said. “But I don’t consider this a personal matter anymore, rather a matter for the whole of society… Hong Kong people were forced without any way out.”

missing booksellers book banned lee bo gui minhai
File photo: HKFP.

He said it was unacceptable that his colleague Lee Bo was “kidnapped” from Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong has rule of law – I am not afraid for my personal safety, and I do not plan to go to the mainland again,” he said. “This is the red line for Hong Kong people – Hong Kong people will not give in to the powerful regime.”

Regarding the booksellers that returned to Hong Kong and went to the mainland again, he said he hoped the Chinese government would “treat them well.”

“Just like God treats human beings well – I only hope for that,” he said.

Photo: Todd Darling/HKFP.
Photo: Todd Darling/HKFP.

The bookseller saga

Five booksellers from the Causeway Bay store went missing from Thailand, China and Hong Kong last year. The whereabouts of Swedish national Gui Minhai are still unknown. The UK and the US governments, and the European Union, have expressed concern over the issue.

Lam founded and operated the banned book store before it was purchased by Mighty Current in 2014. He last used his computer at the shop on October 23 and was reported missing by his wife on November 5. He called his wife the next day to say he was safe, following media reports of his disappearance. He was confirmed to be in China on February 4 this year.

Lam stood accused of being involved in illegal activities on the mainland. Chinese authorities said that criminal compulsory measures were imposed upon him and he was under investigation.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.