Swedish athlete Nils van der Poel has given his gold medal from the Beijing Winter Olympics to the daughter of jailed bookseller Gui Minhai, in protest against China’s “oppression” of free speech and human rights.
Van der Poel met Angela Gui in Cambridge, in the UK, last Thursday, to hand over the medal he won for the men’s 10,000-metre speedskating race at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. It was one of two golds he won at the sporting event.
On Friday, Angela Gui tweeted about the medal hand over and said van der Poel had dedicated his Olympic prize to her father and “countless other victims of [China’s] abuses.”
“I’d very much like for Nils’ medal to also be able to, at least in some small way, represent solidarity with everyone threatened, imprisoned, or killed by totalitarian regimes everywhere.” Gui’s 28-year-old daughter wrote.
Gui, a Swedish citizen, was one of five Hong Kong-based booksellers affiliated with Causeway Bay Books, which sold political gossip titles.
He disappeared from his holiday home in Thailand in 2015, only to reappear in 2016 in mainland China “confessing” to various crimes on state TV. He was released after serving two years in prison, but was arrested again in January 2018 while travelling with two Swedish diplomats on a train to Beijing to a medical appointment.
The bookseller was sentenced to 10 years in jail in mainland China after being found guilty of “illegally providing intelligence” to overseas parties on February 24, 2020.
Van der Poel told The New York Times that he had been planning to protest against China’s “ferocious clampdown on free speech, dissent and ethnic minorities” at the Beijing Olympics. However, Chinese officials’ warnings about punishments athletes might face “for making comments deemed to be against the law” had convinced him not to protest openly in China.
“I am not the voice of all Olympians, but me and my friends dedicated our lives to strive for excellence within sports, and the Chinese government chose to use our dreams as a political weapon to legitimise their regime. To me that was personal, and I felt exploited,” van der Poel told Amnesty International.
Speaking to The New York Times, the athlete said he has fought to be an Olympic champion his entire life and it felt “surrealistic” giving the medal away. “But it also brings a lot more value to the journey – that it’s not just me skating around in circles.”
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