HONG KONG (AP) — A Hong Kong bookseller who was set to lead the southern Chinese city’s annual pro-democracy protest march on Friday has dropped out at the last minute, saying he felt “gravely threatened.”
Organizers of the protest, which is expected to attract tens of thousands of people, had invited Lam Wing-kee. But they said in a message to the media that he “suddenly” backed out.
Lam is one of five booksellers who went missing for months only to turn up later in police custody in mainland China.
Their disappearance sparked international concern that Beijing was eroding Hong Kong’s considerable autonomy and rule of law.
Lam returned to Hong Kong last month on the condition he provide information about buyers of the gossipy tomes on China’s communist leadership that his company specialized in. But he defied Chinese authorities and instead spoke out about his ordeal of being detained secretly on the mainland.
Albert Ho, a pro-democracy lawmaker who has been assisting Lam, said Lam noticed he had been followed by strangers the last two days.
“He feels increasingly concerned about his own personal safety so he made up his mind and decided not to attend the July 1st march,” Ho said, adding the police had been notified.
He said he did not know who the people were who had been following Lam.
The rally is expected to attract 100,000 people. About 1,700 police officers are being deployed along the protest route, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported.
Protesters are set to demand that Hong Kong’s unpopular Beijing-backed leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-Ying, step down and that the Chinese government grant the semiautonomous city full democracy. These are longstanding demands of the protest, held on a holiday marking the day Beijing took control of Hong Kong in 1997 after more than a century and a half of British colonial rule.
But turnout is sure to be fueled by Lam’s revelations, which add to growing fears that Beijing is clamping down on Hong Kong’s civil liberties such as freedom of speech. They’ve also raised concerns about the Hong Kong’s government inability to protect its residents from mainland Chinese law enforcement.
“The issue is very shocking to Hong Kong people,” Jackie Hung, vice convener of protest organizer Civil Human Rights Front, said ahead of the protest. “If we wish to express our anger, if we wish to express our disappointed attitude than the July 1 platform would be the best platform for Hong Kong people.”
Follow Kelvin Chan at twitter.com/chanman