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Protests in Hong Kong over bookseller detention in China

Lam Wing-kee is one of five booksellers who published salacious titles about leading Chinese politicians and disappeared at the end of last year in a case that drew international condemnation. Representative image. Photograph: (Getty)

AFP Hong Kong Jun 17, 2016, 07.35 AM (IST)

Angry protesters gathered in Hong Kong on Friday after a city bookseller broke silence to reveal how he was blindfolded, interrogated and detained in China for eight months for trading titles critical of Beijing.

In a surprise interview sure to infuriate Beijing, Lam Wing-kee late on Thursday vowed to break bail, refusing to return to the mainland, and further defied Chinese authorities by blowing the lid on how he was detained on a visit to China and interrogated for months with no access to a lawyer or his family.

Lam Wing-kee is one of five booksellers who published salacious titles about leading Chinese politicians and disappeared at the end of last year in a case that drew international condemnation and heightened fears that Beijing was tightening its grip on Hong Kong.

All of the men resurfaced in mainland China where four of them, including Lam, are under investigation for importing banned books into China. 

Lam returned to Hong Kong on Tuesday on bail and was due to go back on Thursday but instead decided to remain and tell his story.

Around 40 protesters from pro-democracy party Demosisto gathered outside China's liaison office in Hong Kong on Friday shouting "Defend the freedoms of Hong Kongers!"

"We hope the world can put pressure on the government to release all of them (the booksellers)," said activist Nathan Law who was leading the rally along with high-profile campaigner Joshua Wong. 

Wong called Lam a hero.

"Lam is the role model for Hong Kong people - facing the suppression of the communist regime," Wong said.

Demosisto is a newly formed party calling for self-determination for semi-autonomous Hong Kong, part of a growing movement of young campaigners, seeking more autonomy from Beijing amid fears of disappearing freedoms.

Other political groups are due to protest outside the liaison office throughout the day. 

Rights group Amnesty International slammed China's treatment of the booksellers, saying Lam had confirmed what many had suspected.

"It seems clear he, and most likely the others, were arbitrarily detained, ill-treated and forced to confess," said Mabel Au, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong.

Lam told how his confession televised by Chinese state media in February was scripted and directed, and that he recited it out of fear of what would happen to him.

Two more booksellers, Cheung Chi-ping and Lui Por returned to Hong Kong in March on bail, but are reported to have quickly gone back to the mainland.

Their colleague Lee Bo, who says he went to China of his own free will and is helping mainland authorities with their inquiries, returned to Hong Kong for the first time in March but also then quickly went back.

Lee's case caused the most outcry because he was the only bookseller who disappeared on Hong Kong soil, prompting allegations that Chinese enforcement agents were operating illegally in the city. 

Lam said Lee had told him he was taken to the mainland against his will. 

The fifth man, Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, remains in detention.
(AFP)

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