Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström has called upon China to immediately release Gui Minhai, a Hong Kong-based bookseller. He was intially released in 2017 after being held by China for two years, only to be seized again from a train in front of diplomats last Saturday.
Gui – a Swedish citizen – was one of the five booksellers of Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay Books, all of whom disappeared in late 2015. The store was known for selling political gossip titles banned in the mainland. Gui disappeared while on vacation in Pattaya, Thailand 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 held in Chinese custody for two years and was released last October having served his sentence. However, he continued living under surveillance in Ningbo, according to his daughter Angela Gui. On Monday, she told the New York Times that her father was snatched from a Beijing-bound train on Saturday while being escorted by two Swedish diplomats.
In a statement issued on Tuesday night, Wallström said “We take a very serious view of the detention on Saturday of Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, with no specific reason being given for the detention, which took place during an ongoing consular support mission.”
“As has been clear from media reports, Mr Gui Minhai was at the time of his arrest in the company of diplomatic staff, who were providing consular assistance to a Swedish citizen in need of medical care. This was perfectly in line with basic international rules giving us the right to provide our citizens with consular support.”
“The Chinese authorities have assured us on numerous occasions that Mr Gui Minhai has been free since his release having served a sentence for a traffic-related offence, and that we can have any contact we wish with our fellow citizen.”
“We expect the immediate release of our fellow citizen, and that he be given the opportunity to meet Swedish diplomatic and medical staff.”
Sweden summoned China’s ambassador on Saturday, and on Monday, over the news that Gui had been seized again.
During a regular press briefing, reporters grilled Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying about the incident, but she declined to directly address the case, saying she was “not aware of the details” and that the issue was out of the agency’s “remit.”
But, she added, “any foreigner must observe Chinese laws and regulations. This is common sense.”
She also dodged questions about whether China and Sweden had discussed the case: “Communication channels between China and Sweden are smooth and effective. We can exchange opinions on issues of mutual interest.”
According to Angela Gui, the bookseller was travelling to Beijing 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. She said he expressed a desire to receive medical treatment in Europe, and a Swedish doctor was flown in to Beijing to examine him.
Amnesty International China researcher William Nee called for Gui’s immediate release on Twitter.
“Given that the Chinese foreign ministry had said, ‘From our understanding, Gui Minhai has already completely served the sentence imposed for a traffic offence, and was released on October 17’ There is no reason for his apparent detention now.”
“We remain very concerned about Gui Minhai. The government should stop any extralegal measures taken against him, and ensure he receives the medical care that he needs.”
The US’s Congressional-Executive Commission on China also said that Gui “should be immediately released for proper medical care.”
Additional reporting: AFP.