Kidnapped Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee has said he contemplated suicide “many times” during his imprisonment in China. However, media coverage of these claims has been blocked in the Chinese mainland by state censors.
Lam, who was one of five booksellers who were imprisoned for months for selling titles critical of the Chinese leadership, was released on Tuesday (14th June). Following the press conference he gave last week, Lam told the BBC that after his arrest last October he was accused of trying to overthrow the Chinese government by mailing books to the mainland.
Lam, who was the manager of Causeway Bay Bookshop, said he believed they were taken hostage by an elite Chinese law enforcement group which targets authors and booksellers.
"They never told what the punishment for selling illegal books could be, or how long it might be", Lam said. "I had no idea. They could have sentenced me without consulting any sort of legal standard. Maybe I'd get five years in prison, or 10 years. I had no idea at all."
He said that he had considered suicide in January and February this year but that the design of his cell prevented him from making any attempts. "I was looking for a place up there to hang myself... but there wasn't," he said. He was not physically abused, he says, but endured months of solitary confinement, interrogations and psychological torture.
According to Lam, he was released this week on the condition that he would retrieve a hard disk filled with the names of people who had bought books from the Mighty Current publisher.
In the wake of Lam’s claims, China has ordered an apparent media blackout on the coverage of Lam’s story, according to the Guardian.
The China Digital Times, a Berkeley-based website that focuses on censored news items in China, said it had received a leaked directive from Chinese censors ordering all state-run media to take down an editorial run by the Global Times on Friday morning, hours after it was first posted.
The directive said: “All websites find and delete Global Times’ ‘Causeway Bay Books Store Manager’s ‘Confession Retraction’ is Without Real Substance’ and do not repost related reports.”
In its editorial, the Global Times discussed Lam’s televised confession but argued that authorities acted properly in detaining him. “Whether it is appropriate to conduct ‘televised confessions’ is a completely separate question from the legality of steps taken against Lam Wing-kee,” said the editorial, which has been cached on CDT’s website in Chinese.
At a news conference on Friday (17th June), Hua Chunying, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, would not confirm or deny Lam’s claims. She said: “I would refer you to competent authorities handling this case. He is a Chinese citizen. He violated laws in the mainland, and we have the right to deal with the case in accordance with law.”