“Looking back, I might have become Sweden’s chess piece, my wonderful life has been ruined and I would never trust the Swedish ever again.”

These were the words of detained publisher, Gui Minhai, when the Chinese authorities, for the third time, forced him to parade before the media. Once again, China has shown utter contempt for international law and fundamental human rights, including the right to a fair trial.

The ”interview” followed a well-known Chinese pattern where the authorities try to divert the focus from their grave disrespect for the rule of law by publicly shaming the individual. The list of breaches of human rights and international law, by the Chinese government in Gui Mihai’s case is outrageous and long.

Gui Minhai was taken from his holiday home on October 17, 2015 in Thailand by a group of plainclothed Chinese agents. His whereabouts were unknown for a long time after his disappearance.

He resurfaced in January 2016 when the Chinese authorities admitted to having detained Gui. A state-controlled TV channel aired a forced confession video where Gui said that he had voluntarily returned to China to turn himself in for a traffic-related offence dating back to 2003. He claimed he did not want any support from the Swedish government.

While the authorities admitted that Gui Minhai was in Chinese custody, he was neither charged, tried or sentenced. A few months later there was another televised ”confession”. This time Gui Minhai admitted to distributing unlicensed books to mainland China and, once again, he claimed he did not want the Swedish government to act on his behalf.

Photo: HKFP/Stanley Leung.

After his release from prison, in October 2017, Gui Minhai has been under strict surveillance, living in a flat in Ningbo. His access to the internet and communication with the outside world has been limited, despite assurances from the Chinese authorities, on a number of occasions, that he was a ”free man and that the Swedish authorities  could have any contact they wished with their fellow citizen”. Sweden’s Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström, made a statement saying that providing consular help to a Swedish citizen in need of medical care was ”perfectly in line with basic international rules, including the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations”.

After alarming signals that Gui Minhai might be suffering from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – a progressive degenerative disease that affects the brain and spine –  the Swedish embassy arranged for him to be examined by a medical team at the embassy in Beijing.

On January 20, he was being accompanied by two Swedish diplomats on the train from Shanghai to Beijing, when ten plain clothes police officers boarded the train and dragged him away in front of the two diplomats. His whereabouts were once again unknown until a statement, on 6 February, by a spokesperson from the Chinese foreign ministry declared that Gui Minhai was subjected to ”criminal coercive measures”, a term generally used to mean detention.

Daughter Angela Gui and Gui Minhai. Photo: Facebook.

PEN International, who has been campaigning for Gui Minhai since his disappearance, strongly condemns the Chinese authorities’ treatment of Gui Minhai, who has again been imprisoned on serious but vaguely phrased allegations without any proof, in violation of not only his right to freedom of expression but basic rule of law principles.

Without access to a lawyer and in an apparently forced ”interview”, on 9 February,  Gui made a statement where he blamed the Swedish government for his present situation and once again claimed  that he does not want any help, either from the Swedish government or others involved in his case.

On 12 February, at the International Publishers Association Congress, in New Dehli, the Prix Voltaire, was to be presented to this year’s recipient, Gui Minhai. Due to the Chinese authorities’ ”coerced measures” against Minhai, his chair remained empty on the podium, like when the Chinese writer, Liu Xiaobo, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.

The Prix Voltaire, is an award to honour ”defenders of freedom to publish”. Gui Minhai has been contributing to the free circulation of ideas through his publishing house, Mighty Current and Causeway Bay Bookstore in Hong Kong.

Gui Minhai. Photo: CCTV screenshot.

He has also participated in human rights conferences and been an alternate member of the board of Independent Chinese PEN. We fear that the treatment of Gui Minhai, at the hands of the Chinese authorities, will have a devastating effect on the once flourishing and necessary publishing industry in Hong Kong.

The treatment of Gui Minhai stands in stark contrast to China’s claim to be a modern and responsible member of the international community.

Freedom of expression is the very core of human rights. We urge the international community not to remain silent but instead to put pressure on the Chinese government and demand; respect for freedom of expression and basic rule of law principles, the immediate and unconditional release of Gui Minhai, and that he be given access to necessary medical treatment, contact with his family and consular as well as legal assistance.

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PEN International

PEN International promotes literature and freedom of expression and is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations. Founded in 1921, PEN International connects an international community of writers from its secretariat in London. Through Centres in over 100 countries, PEN operates on five continents.