Bookseller Lam defies fears, inspires hope

Bookseller Lam Wing-kee joins a march against threats to 'one country, two systems' posed by Beijing's handling of the missing bookseller case.

By Chris Yeung –

When news broke last week bookseller Lam Wing-kee, who went missing since the end of last year, returned to Hong Kong, it was greeted by Hongkongers with a degree of indifference. He was said to have asked the police to drop his case of missing person, as most have anticipated. Most people, including me, had thought it was part of the finale of a scripted story dictated by the Chinese Communist Party aimed to put an end to the saga. No more. No less. I was wrong.

Lam, who was on his way back to the mainland to assist investigation into his alleged wrongdoings, changed his mind. He dropped off at the Kowloon Tong MTR station and called up former Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan. The rest is history still in making.

Lam surprised his fellow Hongkongers – and perhaps himself – by spilling the beans. He revealed details of his ordeal after he was held by the mainland authorities in Shenzhen. He claimed Lee Po, who owned the ill-fated Causeway Books, had said at a gathering with other bookshop colleagues he was abducted by a group of mainlanders in Hong Kong.

In another shocking revelation, Lam claimed the bookseller case has been handled by a “central investigation team”, which was notoriously known during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution.

On Saturday, he came out to join a march by more than 6,000 people from Causeway, where the bookshop is located, to the Central Government’s Liaison Office in Western district. Responding to a denial by Lee Po of his claims, Lam said Lee has lost his “freedom from fear” because he still has family members in the mainland.

Smearing campaign begins

Lee Po aside, two of Lam’s bookshop colleagues and a woman claiming to be his girlfriend have countered Lam’s revelation. The woman, identified only as “Hu”, called Lam a liar and “not like a man” and had “completely ruined the image of Hong Kong’s men”. She said he had lied to her about the legality of banned books when persuading her to help distribute them.

If the vitriolic attacks against Lam were aimed for character assassination to discredit him and whatever he has said, they have proved to be counter-productive.

They have added more fuel to the fire. And worse, the smear tactic has prompted more people to even admire more the courage of Lam for speaking up despite the high political risk that may arise. It did arise. He has already been the target of a blitz of negative publicity mounted by the mainland’s propaganda machine and their friendly media in Hong Kong.

Why Lam changed his mind is a mystery. The truth is it could have been totally different if he had not changed his mind while travelling on the mainland-bound train.

Rightly or wrongly, many people have resigned to the reality that the booksellers, like Lee Po, will keep their mouth shut and stick to the script written by the mainland authorities. They have and will tell the media and the public and the international community to leave them alone. The bookseller saga would have been concluded with the whole truth buried in the black hole of mainland politics.

However undesirable and damaging it is to the fate of “one country, two systems,” there is nothing people can do to change the course of history. That is not the case.

Defying the enormity of pressure and fears, Lam Wing-kee has inspired hopes among Hong Kong people he, at least for one, has not given up speaking up.

Doing so may not succeed in defending Hong Kong’s systems under the constitutional framework. But giving up the right to freedom of expression and the promises given under “one country, two systems” is self-defeatist, which is not in the best interest of Hong Kong and the central authorities.

Chris Yeung is founder and editor of the Voice of Hong Kong website. He is a veteran journalist formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He writes on Greater China issues.

Photo: Picture by Chan Wai-yee



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