China bans news coverage of Hong Kong bookseller abduction

Censors order removal of editorial and ‘related reports’ amid uproar over Lam Wing-kee’s account of his disappearance

China has ordered an apparent media blackout on mainland coverage of a Hong Kong bookseller’s claim he was abducted by Chinese agents amid outcry in the territory and internationally over the case.

Lam Wing-kee made his claims on Thursday evening at a news conference in Hong Kong, stoking fears about China violating individual freedoms and liberty in the former British colony.

State-run newspaper Global Times ran an editorial on Friday rebutting Lam, but a link was quickly removed from the internet.

The China Digital Times, a Berkeley-based group that tracks the Chinese internet, said it received a leaked directive from Chinese censors ordering all state-run media to take down the Global Times editorial on Friday morning, hours after it was first posted.

“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,” said the directive reported by China Digital Times.

CDT is itself blocked in China because it regularly reports on leaked censorship instructions and other information deemed sensitive by the Chinese government.

Lam’s allegations have sparked uproar in Hong Kong – an autonomous region that upholds partial protections for free speech and assembly – and internationally. Democracy activists planned a protest on Saturday over Lam’s treatment by the mainland authorities.

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, joined the international outcry.

No one is safe in Hong Kong if China can seize and "disappear" critics across the border.

— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) June 18, 2016

Lam, the 61-year-old manager of Causeway Bay Bookstore, is one of five Hong Kong booksellers who went missing in October 2015. All were involved in sales of books about the Chinese Communist party leadership that mainland tourists often buy when they visit Hong Kong.

One of the booksellers, Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen, is believed to be still detained on the mainland. Others are nominally free, with Lam the first to come forward and answer questions about his disappearance.

Lam has said he spent months in solitary confinement – blindfolded and often handcuffed – after being snatched by a group of men upon entering mainland China in October 2015. He said the men were Chinese agents who forced him to confess to crimes he did not commit.

Lam said he suspected other booksellers had not come forward to talk because of fears family members on the mainland could face reprisals. “I don’t have family on the mainland, only my girlfriend,” he said.

In its editorial on Friday, 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 regular new conference on Friday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman would not confirm or deny Lam’s claims.

“I would refer you to competent authorities handling this case,” said Hua Chunying, the foreign ministry spokeswoman. “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.”


Stuart Leavenworth in Beijing

The GuardianTramp

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