Catherine Lai | Hong Kong Free Press
Sweden has summoned China’s ambassador over reports that bookseller Gui Minhai has been seized again. Gui disappeared while on vacation in Thailand and was held in Chinese custody for two years.
The Swedish citizen was one of five Hong Kong-based booksellers who hit the headlines when they disappeared in late 2015. Their store, Causeway Bay Books, sold political gossip titles banned in the mainland. Gui went missing in Pattaya with no record of departure, only to re-emerge on Chinese state television months later “confessing” to a drunk-driving accident that took place over a decade ago.
He was formally released last October after serving his sentence for a “traffic offense,” but – according to his daughter Angela Gui – he was living in a “police-managed” flat under their surveillance in the eastern city of Ningbo.
Angela, who had been campaigning for his release from the UK, where she is studying, told the New York Times on Monday that her father was snatched from a Beijing-bound train on Saturday while being escorted by two Swedish diplomats.
She said around 10 men in plain clothes boarded the train at one of the stops before Beijing and took him away. She added that they claimed to be from the police and did not have a warrant.
She said Gui was traveling to the capital for a medical exam at the Swedish embassy after he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS – a neurological disease which affects muscle movement.
“He had developed a set of neurological symptoms that he didn’t have when he was taken into custody in 2015,” she told Radio Sweden.
She said he expressed a desire to receive medical treatment in Europe, and a Swedish doctor was flown into Beijing to examine him.
Foreign Minister Margot Wallström told Swedish news agency TT that she has summoned China’s ambassador for more information, but declined to comment further “out of consideration” for Gui.
A spokesperson for the Swedish Foreign Ministry confirmed to Swedish Radio News that Gui Minhai had been detained. He added that the ministry was taking the matter very seriously. “We have taken strong measures on a high political level,” he said.
The New York Times reported that Chinese officials told Swedish diplomats that he was suspected of sharing secret information with them and of meeting them illegally.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it “had no understanding of the situation you referred to” when contacted by the newspaper.
Writers’ association PEN America condemned Gui’s detention as “an outrageous violation of the rule of law, human rights, and free expression.”
“China’s treatment of publisher Gui Minhai—a story of abduction, detention, and now denial of medical care—demonstrates flagrant disregard for the rule of law and human rights,” said Summer Lopez, Senior Director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America.
“China’s reported claims that it believes Gui has been sharing ‘secret information’ with Swedish diplomats is laughable—the only information that Gui would have to share would be on his own mistreatment at the hands of Chinese security forces. The entire international community should condemn this outrageous act.”
Gui’s friend, the poet Bei Ling, said on Twitter on Monday that Gui was going to the Swedish Embassy in Beijing to complete procedures for a new passport and for the medical examination.
“As his friend, I believe he should return to Germany – where he lived – as soon as possible. Regardless of the difficulties, the Chinese side has to release him sooner or later, because his wish is clear,” Bei said.
In response to the reported claim that Gui was suspected of sharing secret information with diplomats, Bei Ling said: “There is only one piece of secret information, which is [Gui] telling the truth about how he was taken to China in late October 2015.”
NGO Hong Kong Watch said the disappearance was “an utterly unacceptable breach of freedom of expression and the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”