The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.
The tangled saga of Hong Kong’s disappearing booksellers took a new turn this week with the reemergence of Lam Wing-kee, who held a press conference on Thursday to describe his detention, 20-30 interrogations, and televised forced confession. Lam is one of five men who were detained over the shipment of banned books, including some claiming to uncover scandals involving Chinese President Xi Jinping, to the mainland. His claims have added fuel to persistent anxiety about the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy, and sparked a string of protests as well as calls for his protection. His alleged capture by a “central investigation team” has been described as a “creepy” echo of the Cultural Revolution.
While some called Lam’s revelations “explosive” and “chilling,” saying that they have “blown apart the Chinese authorities’ story,” an editorial in the state-run nationalist tabloid Global Times on Friday said they had “little substance.” The article was quickly deleted, but is preserved at CDT Chinese.
One possible reason for the article’s deletion is that it relayed several of Lam’s accusations against mainland authorities, even if only to rebut them. It reported his statement that his colleague Lee Bo was seized and taken across the border involuntarily, pointing out that Lee has claimed otherwise. Lee has since repeated his version of events, as Phila Siu reports at South China Morning Post:
“Originally, I had no plans to say anything more,” Lee wrote on his Facebook page on Friday. “But because Lam Wing-kee made a few remarks, I just had to make some clarifications.”
[…] He further stated that, when he met Lam on Thursday, he never mentioned how he ended up in the mainland from Hong Kong.
“When I was chatting with Lam Wing-kee, I did not talk about how I returned to the mainland, and so I didn’t say I went to the mainland involuntarily or anything similar to that,” he said. “During my time there, I was assisting with the investigation by Ningbo’s public security bureau. I have never heard of the central investigation team.” [Source]
Lam has suggested that the other booksellers are reluctant to speak out for fear of reprisals against family members on the mainland. He has none himself.
Global Times also offered a less than full-throated retort to Lam’s description of his televised confession, part of a recent trend which has raised alarm both inside China and abroad.
Lam said that when he made his “televised confession,” “there was a director and a script.” Although this is a one-sided account, it could easily be believable to some people. Therefore this charge of Lam’s could lead them to question the validity of the other four men’s “televised confessions”; whether it might have still more serious consequences will depend on whether a further round of questioning reveals new key evidence. Of course, since the practice of “televised confessions” arose a few years ago, it has sparked some controversy on the mainland, and opinions differ regarding its effect on public opinion. But whether it is appropriate to conduct “televised confessions” is a completely separate question from the legality of steps taken against Lam Wing-kee. [Chinese]
The editorial may have gone too far in conceding that the obligations between Hong Kong and Beijing are a two-way street. “The various forces in Hong Kong must respect the mainland’s political system, and not engage in activities that violate national security or the mainland’s political stability,” it stated. But “in turn, the mainland should more strictly respect Hong Kong’s judicial independence, and understand the issue’s high degree of sensitivity in public opinion.” It went on to stress the importance of communication and consultation between the two sides, “conforming to the inherent logic of Chinese civilization.”
Global Times further noted that by his own account, Lam had been taken into custody while over the border in Shenzhen, and added that mainland authorities have every right to investigate crimes within their own jurisdiction. Leaving aside the general lack of clarity surrounding book bans, some in Hong Kong have questioned the legal basis for arresting Lam even on the mainland. Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, according to Hong Kong Free Press, argued that “his action is sending [the books]. If the recipient is in the wrong over there and has violated the law, then you should block the one who is receiving [the books]. I don’t think that there is a reason to detain him when he is crossing the border.” Lam’s friend, pro-democracy lawmaker Albert Ho asked, “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?”
Lam said that he had been psychologically tortured, and reported that his toothbrush and nail clippers were attached to cords so a guard could yank them away if he tried to harm himself. Global Times claimed that his account confirmed he had suffered no abuse, however. That he felt free to hold the press conference, it added, proved Hong Kong’s freedom and the integrity of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle. Albert Ho offered a different perspective at Hong Kong Free Press, arguing that Lam had decided to speak out in spite of perceived danger, not because there was none:
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. [Source]
Several points from the Global Times editorial have also been made by pro-Beijing legislators in Hong Kong, as well as by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying at a regular press briefing on Friday. Hua reportedly emphasized China’s right to enforce the law within its borders, and highlighted the discrepancy between Lam’s and Lee’s public statements. Her responses were omitted from the official transcript, however.
Meanwhile, Ningbo police told Sing Tao Daily and Phoenix TV that Lam had freely admitted guilt, and that he had asked them for help with accommodation on the mainland as he did not want to return to Hong Kong due to marital difficulties.
Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.