Still no answers a year after bookseller Gui Minhai’s disappearance

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Originally published by Hong Kong Free Press on October 17, 2016

A year after publisher Gui Minhai disappeared from his holiday home in Thailand only to reappear in custody in mainland China, Swedish authorities say they are continuing to work towards a solution.

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 late last year. 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.

‘Good health’

A spokesperson for the Swedish Embassy in Beijing told HKFP via email that Embassy staff met Gui Minhai on September 28, during which Gui said that he was in good health. The Embassy has made numerous enquiries to local authorities, high representatives of the Chinese government, and the Chinese ambassador in Stockholm, she said.

“We have been working to find a solution ever since he was apprehended. I am expecting a response from China in the near future, and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Embassy will continue to work actively to reach clarity in the matter,” said Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström.

Limited access

Swedish diplomats in Beijing also visited Gui in February, during which he said that he did not want any help, according to a website run by Gui’s daughter Angela. The Embassy has only been allowed access to him twice, with Chinese authorities citing the fact that Gui did not want help, according to the site. Gui has been held for a year without being formally charged. The Embassy says it is continuing to press for answers on the charges against him.

The Embassy said in its email that “The Ministry for Foreign Affairs does not differentiate between Swedish citizens. Ethnicity or any prior citizenship does not influence how the consular mission is carried out.”

However, Michael Caster, a human rights advocate and researcher, wrote in an op-ed on Monday that efforts to secure Gui’s release “have been stalled by China’s refusal to acknowledge his Swedish citizenship, attempting to block his access to international support. Sweden’s unwillingness to push his case as forcefully as we might expect if he was a natural born citizen has not helped.”

His daughter, Angela, said that she hoped the embassy could do more.

“I can say that I’m generally grateful for their work for my dad’s release, even if I of course wish that they could do more.”

Concerning trend

Human rights groups also remain concerned about the trend of the Chinese government targeting foreign nationals outside of its borders.

Frances Eve, researcher at the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), told HKFP that Gui’s disappearance is part of a trend under Xi Jinping’s government to target critics and human rights activists globally without regard to international laws or borders.

“It’s not entirely new – as can be seen with Wang Bingzhang’s case in Vietnam – but the recent number of cases indicates it’s a more common tool that police are reaching for. Gui Minhai and Lee Bo’s cases are especially alarming, as the Chinese government appears to no longer be deterred by foreign nationality in its global pursuit of those who dare challenge the CCP.”

Maya Wang, researcher at NGO Human Rights Watch, said the Chinese government’s snatching of foreign nationals from outside its borders is unprecedented in this case.

“Although this case has generated considerable condemnation from the international community, none have imposed meaningful consequences on Beijing for its latest transgression of international law to snatch foreign nationals from outside its borders. This may further embolden the Chinese government,” she said.

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