HONG KONG (AP) — A Hong Kong bookseller whose disappearance sparked international concern said Sunday that he was so despondent during his detention by authorities in mainland China that he considered suicide.
Lam Wing-kee told The Associated Press that he thought about using his clothes to hang himself but couldn't find a way to do it in the small room where he was kept under constant watch for five months.
Lam and four other men who worked for a Hong Kong publishing company disappeared last year, only to turn up months later in police custody on the mainland.
The publisher specialized in gossipy books on China's communist leadership that were popular with Chinese visitors to Hong Kong but banned on the mainland.
Their case raised concerns that Beijing is tightening its hold on the former British colony and undermining its considerable autonomy. Hong Kong retains rule of law and civil liberties such as freedom of speech unseen on the mainland under its status as a special Chinese administrative region that runs until 2047.
Lam, 60, returned to Hong Kong on Tuesday, following three other colleagues who had done so earlier. But he went off the script written for him by the Chinese authorities and spoke out Thursday at a news conference, giving a harrowing account of his ordeal, which unfolded when he paid a visit to the neighboring mainland city of Shenzhen in October.
He was handcuffed and blindfolded, taken on a 13-hour train ride and then confined to a small room for months while he was interrogated about the authors writing for the Mighty Current publishing company and the customers at its Causeway Bay Bookshop, which he managed.
Lam's story contradicted the version of events given by his colleagues to Chinese media and Hong Kong police, in which they said they traveled to the mainland voluntarily to aid in investigations or confess to crimes. Lam said he was forced to sign a confession admitting to illegally mailing books to mainland buyers.
Lam said his interrogators were particularly interested in details about the writers behind two of the company's books.
One was about a Communist Party directive that urged officials to curb the spread of ideas such as press freedom, judicial independence, civil rights, civil society and the party's historic mistakes. It was based on a high-level internal circular leaked in 2013 that was seen as an attempt to attack Western democratic ideals and crush dissent to protect the party's rule.
The other book was about the purported love lives of President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders.
"At the later stage of interrogation, I was questioned about information of authors, whether I knew these authors, the source of transcripts," Lam said. "I was asked to give detailed accounts. I didn't know much about the authors because I was there to sell books. I could only tell them the limited information I knew."
One of Lam's most frightening times came when two unidentified men arrived from Beijing to aggressively question him. They accused him of trying to "overthrow the Chinese government by mailing books to mainland customers, maliciously defaming Chinese leaders and causing terrible influence and damage to society," he said.
"I was told I could be put in prison for 20 to 30 years or even life imprisonment, without any announcement following the sentence," he said.
Lam's mental health deteriorated.
"I planned to end my life in the quickest way," he said.
But there was nothing in the room that he could use to kill himself. He couldn't carry out his plan with his pants because there was nowhere to hang them from. The people watching him also took away any hard objects he could use to hurt himself.
Lam said he has stopped worrying about his safety after speaking out publicly.
"That's not my main concern, it's not so important," he said. "I know I made the right decision."