Swedish authorities say that dissident book publisher Gui Minhai has been released by China. The Swedish national was kidnapped two years ago whilst on holiday in Thailand, only to reemerge in mainland China.

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Gui Minhai. File photo: HKFP.

“We have received information from the Chinese authorities that he has been released,” Swedish foreign ministry spokeswoman Sofia Karlberg told the AFP, without specifying when Gui had been freed. The Chinese foreign ministry told the newswire that he had served his jail sentence over “a traffic accident.”

The 52-year-old was known for writing political gossip titles about Chinese leaders.

‘Not free’

Gui’s daughter Angela confirmed in a press statement that her father had been released last Tuesday, but she still did not know where he was: “[T]he embassy sent senior officials to the place my father is said to have been held and where Swedish consular officers visited him on three occasions.”

“However as they arrived in the morning of the 17th, an official told them that my father had already been released at midnight. They were also told that he was ‘free to travel’ and that they had no idea where he was.”

She said that, days later, the Swedish Consulate General in Shanghai received a “strange phonecall” from someone claiming to be her father: “He was speaking Swedish and claimed that he intended to apply for a Swedish passport in one or two months, but that before doing so he wanted to spend some time with his mother ‘who is ill’. To my knowledge my grandmother is not ill. My father is not in fact with her. It is still very unclear where he is. I am deeply concerned for his wellbeing.”

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Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström said in a tweet that she welcomed the news but was still seeking further clarification.

Patrick Poon, China Researcher at Amnesty International, said the news should be treated with caution: “It remains to be seen if he is genuinely free. At every step the authorities have shown a flagrant disregard for due process, from when he went missing to the so-called TV confession.”

He said that China’s system is designed to “break people and force them go along with the Chinese government’s version of events if they are to have any chance of being released.” Poon added that, if Gui was truly free, he must be able to leave China – should he wish to – and be able to contact his family, free from harassment.

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Angela Gui and Gui Minhai. Photo: Angela Gui/CCTV screenshot.

Gui was a co-owner of Causeway Bay Books and its parent company Mighty Current, which specialised in Chinese political gossip titles. The five co-owners and staff members of the two companies all disappeared in late 2015. Gui, a China-born Swedish citizen, disappeared from Pattaya, Thailand on October 17, 2015 with no record of his departure. He re-emerged on Chinese state television in January, “confessing” to a drunk-driving accident in 2003.

In April, he won a press freedom and free speech prize from Swedish media organisation Publicistklubben.

China “released” poet Liu Xia earlier this year following the death of her husband, dissident Liu Xiaobo. However, her whereabouts have been unclear and she has remained under close surveillance.

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Tom Grundy

Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.