HKFP Exclusive

Pro-democracy lawmaker Albert Ho says he is a regular patron of Causeway Bay Books and a friend to Lam Wing-kee.

Ho spoke to HKFP about how he came to help Lam, a day after the previously missing publisher gave reporters a dramatic account of his detention in China. Lam, one of the five missing booksellers from the Causeway Bay’s banned bookstore, returned to Hong Kong on Tuesday after being “abducted” from Shenzhen last October. He was due to go back to China on Thursday with a hard drive containing a list of the bookstore’s customers, but decided to remain in the city and speak out.

albert ho

‘Friend’ of Lam

Ho, who held the press conference together with Lam on Thursday, told HKFP that Lam had approached him for advice because they were friends.

“I’m a frequent visitor to the Causeway Bay bookshop so he has known me for quite some time. [S]hortly after he was released, he decided not to go home, he found a shelter for a rest, so that he can think over the whole matter as to how he should go forward – particularly, he’s very concerned about the demand made to him that he should hand over some of the personal data [of] the customers of the bookshop and he was extremely unwilling to do it,” Ho told HKFP.

Lam Wing-kee
Lam Wing-kee. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

“So he thought it over, he needed some advice, and he thought about me. He gave me a call yesterday during lunchtime… so I immediately contacted him and asked him to go to my law offices,” Ho said.

“Eventually – I didn’t need to persuade him, actually, he decided he would not hand [over] all this personal data and information about his customers to the mainland officials, he would not sell out his customers, and therefore he decided not to go back to the mainland though he previously promised to do so, and finally he needed, he knew… to make a public disclosure about the whole incident.”

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See also: ‘Defend the freedoms of Hong Kongers’: Angry protests at China office over ‘kidnapped’ bookseller

Ho said that nobody could ensure Lam’s safety, and that he could not even ensure his own safety. “But I think we need to have enough courage to speak the truth. As he said yesterday quite honestly and candidly that if people like him, having no immediate family members in the mainland, were still fearful and become subdued and refused to speak the truth, it would be a very, very sad day for Hong Kong,” Ho said. He also said that one should not be so fearful for their own safety that it deterred them from taking actions.

missing booksellers
The disappearances of the booksellers have triggered protests in Hong Kong. Photo: Todd Darling/HKFP.

‘Blatant violation’ and ‘non-compliance’

Responding to pro-Beijing lawmakers’ comments that the incident had nothing to do with One Country, Two Systems, Ho said that the kidnapping of Lee Bo was a serious incident and the mainland law enforcement agencies had ignored the basic norm they should have abided by – namely that they could not come over to Hong Kong to take people away.

Ho also said that based on the evidence, it was clear that Lee Bo was kidnapped. “I don’t think Hong Kong people would believe in any other purported explanation – after all, there is no explanation, no account as to how Lee Bo would have gone back to China without the HKID card and the entry permit.”

albert ho lam wing kee
Albert Ho and Lam Wing-kee. Photo: Gene Lin/HKFP.

See also: ‘Say no to the authoritarian regime’: Returned bookseller says HK gov’t failed him, but he will not leave city

Ho added that, concerning how the Hong Kong booksellers were detained, there was a “blatant violation” and “non-compliance” with the obligations enshrined in a memorandum that was entered into by the Hong Kong government and the mainland authorities. Ho said that under the memorandum, the mainland should have disclosed the purpose of the compulsory measures the Hongkongers were subjected to, as well as the place and the duration of the measures.

Ho said that Lam did not do anything except send books and arrange for books to be mailed to his customers, and even if those books were banned in China, these acts were committed in Hong Kong in a perfectly lawful way. “How can he be detained and then be threatened to be prosecuted under mainland law for something lawful that he had done in Hong Kong?”

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.