Recently returned bookseller Lam Wing-kee admitted to “illegal business operations” and did not want to hire a lawyer, Chinese authorities in Ningbo have told a Sing Tao Daily reporter.

Lam Wing-kee.
Lawmaker Albert Ho and bookseller Lam Wing-kee. Photo: Gene Lin/HKFP.

Lam, who founded the Causeway Bay Books banned bookstore, resurfaced in Hong Kong on Tuesday after disappearing last October. He says he was accosted in Shenzhen, detained and ill-treated by a “special unit” separate to mainland police. He chose to speak out instead of returning to China on Thursday.

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

An officer involved in the case claimed that Lam and his girlfriend wrote declarations of their own accord stating that they would not hire lawyers and would not see their families owing to “personal reasons”.

Lam and his colleagues were knowingly breaking the law by selling large numbers of books that were unapproved by Chinese authorities, the officer said. On October 24 last year, “law enforcement measures” were taken on Lam when he crossed over into the mainland to meet his girlfriend, according to the officer.

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Photo: Sing Tao.

The officer said Lam readily admitted to the crime and wrote an admission of guilt. The officer said Lam was released on bail, but “Lam said that he was having difficulties with his wife and son, and it was difficult for him to live in Hong Kong – [he] asked the Public Security authorities for help. According to this, Public Security authorities made appropriate arrangements for him.”

See also: Banned book seller says Chinese authorities demanded hard drive containing details of some 600 customers

They said that Public Security agreed to let Lam return to Hong Kong to attend to personal matters, and that they will work with Hong Kong police at the appropriate time.

hong kong bookstore
Mainland tourists reading books at a banned bookstore. Photo: Todd Darling/HKFP.

Sing Tao displayed a document on their website which appears to show Lam asking Public Security authorities to help him with accommodation.

Conflicting accounts 

The account contradicts Lam’s statements at a press conference Thursday night. According to Lam, he was detained by a “central special unit” and forced to cooperate without a lawyer or any outside communication.

He said that he was not allowed to go outside and was detained in a room with suicide prevention measures. Lam also said that he was allowed to return to Hong Kong only on the condition that he return with a hard disk containing information about the bookstore’s customers.

lam wing kee
Phoenix TV news report on the Ningbo police response. Photo: Screenshot from Phoenix TV.

A news report on Phoenix TV reported the Ningbo authorities’ version of events, saying that Lam had admitted to his crime, and was released on bail.

Several Weibo posts about Lam’s press conference were taken down, though several news reports remain on Weibo relating to Lam’s “admission” of guilt.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.