Protests in Hong Kong over bookseller detention in China

Angry protesters gathered in Hong Kong 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 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 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 Tuesday on bail and was due to go back Thursday but instead decided to remain and tell his story.

A succession of political groups protested outside China's liaison office in Hong Kong Friday.

Members of pro-democracy party Demosisto shouted "Defend the freedoms of Hong Kongers!" and plastered posters supporting Lam over the outside wall.

Demosisto is calling for self-determination for semi-autonomous Hong Kong, as young campaigners seek more distance from Beijing amid fears of disappearing freedoms.

Teenage activist Joshua Wong, one of the founders of the party, called Lam a hero.

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

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.

- Suicide watch -

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.

In harrowing detail he explained how the toothbrush he was given in detention was tied by a thread which was held by a guard to prevent him from committing suicide by swallowing it.

Fellow booksellers Lui Por and Cheung Chi-ping returned to Hong Kong in March on bail, but both were reported to have quickly gone back to the mainland at that time.

Their colleague Lee Bo, who says he went to China of his own free will and is helping mainland authorities with their inquiries, has also been back and forth to Hong Kong.

On his Facebook page Friday he asked reporters crowded outside his apartment block in the city to leave him alone.

He also refuted Lam's claim that Lee had told him he had been taken to the mainland against his wishes.

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.

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