TAIPEI – A Hong Kong bookseller who disappeared into Chinese custody for half a year said Friday he has fled to Taiwan after the financial hub announced plans to approve extraditions to the mainland.
Lam Wing-kee was one of five publishers selling gossip-filled tomes on China’s leaders who vanished at the end of 2015, resurfacing in Chinese custody and making televised confessions.
He was allowed back to Hong Kong in June 2016 on condition that he pick up a hard drive listing the bookstore’s customers and return to the mainland.
Instead he skipped bail and went public with explosive testimony detailing how he was blindfolded by mainland police after crossing the border at Shenzhen and spent months being interrogated.
Following his ordeal, 64-year-old Lam had previously said he wanted to move to Taiwan, which does not have an extradition agreement with China.
But he said his plans were sped up after Hong Kong’s government this year announced the controversial move to allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland.
“Right now Hong Kong is not safe for me anymore,” he said in Taipei, saying he had flown to the Taiwanese capital the day before.
Lam said he was “enjoying the air of freedom and reading some free books,” adding that he hopes to work for a friend and is currently in talks to open a bookstore on the self-ruling democratic island.
Because Lam skipped bail he is still technically wanted on the Chinese mainland.
Hong Kong currently has no extradition agreement with China.
The city has a separate legal system through the “one country, two systems” deal struck between Britain and China. Historically the city has balked at mainland extraditions because of the opacity of China’s criminal justice system and its liberal use of the death penalty.
But earlier this year, Hong Kong’s government announced plans to overhaul its extradition rules, allowing the transfer of fugitives with mainland China on a “case-basis” for the first time.
The legislation has been winding its way through the city’s parliament.
Lam said he felt he could not take the risk of staying.
“You don’t know what kind of excuses or charges they will use to put you on the wanted list,” he said, adding the law “puts every Hong Konger in a very dangerous position.”
He said he felt Taiwan was a safer bet because it “really has rule of law.”
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council told local media Lam had been granted a one month business stay and that if he wanted to stay longer he would need to submit the relevant applications.
The planed extradition changes in Hong Kong have sparked large protests and mounting alarm within the city’s business and legal communities who fear it will hammer the financial hub’s international appeal and tangle people up in China’s opaque courts.
A new protest is planned for Sunday.