An activist has staged a demonstration outside the Foreign Ministry in Sweden protesting the country’s “weak” response after Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai was seized from a Beijing-bound train while being escorted by two diplomats last month.

Gui was among five Hong Kong-based booksellers who disappeared from different locations in late 2015. Their store, Causeway Bay Books, sold political gossip titles banned in the mainland. Gui went missing in Pattaya, Thailand with no record of departure, only to re-emerge on Chinese state television months later “confessing” to a decade-old drunk-driving incident.

swedish protest
Photo: Benjamin Ismaïl.

He was held in Chinese custody for two years and was formally released last October after serving his sentence for a “traffic offence,” but was living in a “police-managed” flat under their surveillance in the eastern city of Ningbo, according to his daughter Angela Gui.

‘Practise what you preach’

Benjamin Ismail — formerly head of NGO Reporters Without Borders in Asia — is behind Watchdogs Unleashed, a new project for defending freedom of expression worldwide. He staged a demonstration outside the Swedish Foreign Ministry in Stockholm on Tuesday, displaying a large banner that said: “Foreign Minister M. Wallstrom Practise What You Preach!”

Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallstrom has been outspoken about human rights and the responsibility of Sweden, such as in his 2016 speech ahead of United Nations Day.

The activist said on the Watchdogs Unleashed website that “The reaction of the Swedish government regarding this blatant violation of the fundamental freedoms of one its citizen has been very weak.”

swedish protest
Photo: Benjamin Ismaïl.

Ismail noted that Wallström called for Gui’s “immediate release” and Chinese ambassadors were summoned twice, “but no other public response has met this latest arbitrary arrest.”

On Monday, Wallstrom called the seizure a “brutal intervention” that was “in contravention of basic international rules on consular support.”

Ismail urged her to “take concrete countermeasures” to protect Gui, including withdrawal of its diplomats or visa restrictions, in order to “signify to China that it will not accept any authoritarian treatment of its citizens.”

“We can’t tolerate the abandonment of a Swedish citizen by its government, which has already failed to provide him with sufficient help two years ago,” he said.

‘Brazen and outrageous move’

“This is a brazen and outrageous move by the Chinese authorities,” Amnesty International China Researcher William Nee said.

Nee said that China had failed to give an adequate explanation as to why Gui was taken away. “Gui Minhai must be released. He and his family have suffered enough, their nightmare should be over not recurring.”

gui minhai
Gui Minhai. Photo: Screenshot/CCTV.

“It is ludicrous for the Chinese government to lecture others about respect, when they have shown utter contempt for fair trials and other human rights,” he said.

Nee said it is “crucial” Gui receives adequate health care, as well as consular access and access to lawyers of his choice while detained. “The Chinese government cannot simply sidestep international law because they arbitrarily deem a case to be ‘serious’.”

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.