Gui Minhai, one of the five missing booksellers, has appeared on state-run TV in China “confessing” to causing the death of a 20-year-old student whilst drink-driving in Zhejiang province in 2003.
In a ten-minute “exclusive interview” broadcast on Sunday, Gui – a China-born Swedish citizen – said he surrendered to mainland authorities last October after over 11 years on the run.
“Returning to the Chinese mainland and surrendering was my personal choice and had nothing to do with anyone else. I should shoulder my responsibility and I don’t want any individual or institutions to interfere, or viciously hype up my return,” Gui said.
The report says that Gui had driven home intoxicated after dinner with friends on December 8th, 2003, killing a girl surnamed Shen, who was around 20 years of age. The perpetrator was given a two-year suspended jail term in 2004. State media said Gui fled overseas that November using fake identification documents.
“I was afraid of going to jail and there was no way I could develop on the mainland – so I thought I better run… I have to shoulder my own liability, and I’m willing to be punished.”
Gui was a staff member at Mighty Current Publishing, which owns Causeway Bay Bookstore. The store is well-known among mainland tourists as a source for political titles banned in China. Four other members of staff from the store have been missing since October of last year, including co-owner Lee Bo.
Gui appealed to Swedish authorities not to intervene.
“Although I am a Swedish national, I feel that I am still Chinese and my roots are in China. Therefore, I hope that the Swedish government will respect my choice, my rights and my privacy and let me solve my problem on my own,” he said.
Political Commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu told RTHK that the PRC government’s explanation was full of contradictions and could lead others to speculate as to whether the authorities were dishonest or “made stories up”.
The Labour Party’s Lee Cheuk-yan told Commercial Radio that the supposed confession was “illogical and not believable”.
Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Asia Nicholas Bequelin said Gui’s words sounded scripted.
A very elaborate script, and a skillful mix of truths, half-truths and outright lies. https://t.co/wI60HKMZDX
— Nicholas Bequelin 林伟 (@bequelin) January 17, 2016
Meanwhile, the wife of another missing bookseller, store co-owner Lee Bo, said that she had received letters from her husband saying that he had recently learned of Gui’s criminal background, calling him a very “immoral person”. Lee also blamed Gui for his predicament, according to Commercial Radio.
It is unclear whether Gui may have been pressured by Chinese authorities. Neither Gui, nor the report, explained how he arrived in China from Thailand.
There are also discrepancies over the spelling of the suspect’s name and his age. A CCTV article from 2005 mentioning the case gives Gui’s age as 46, though Gui – of Mighty Current – was born in 1964. He would have been 39 at the time of the incident.
Televised “confessions” have become more common in recent years in China. In August 2015, a Chinese business reporter made an on-air “confession” after being detained over a stock market story he had written. Wang Xiaolu “admitted” to spreading false information and supposedly destabilising the stock market.
Additional reporting: Karen Cheung.