Hong Kong Bookseller Gui Minhai Sentenced to 10 Years

Swedish citizen is one of the five booksellers and publishers associated with Hong Kong’s Mighty Current Media and Causeway Bay bookstore who were detained from abroad in 2015 to reappear in custody in China. The episode heightened concerns about Beijing’s willingness to target foreign nationals and conduct cross-border detentions to dissuade criticism. Gui’s location was unknown until he appeared on CCTV in January 2016 making a forced confession. The other four detained publishers have since been released and returned to Hong Kong, with one relocating to Taiwan. Gui was briefly released in 2017 and then detained again while riding a train to Beijing with Swedish diplomatic officials. Former Swedish ambassador Anna Lindstead was later recalled and investigated for arranging a meeting between Gui’s daughter and two businessmen in Stockholm without authorization). Gui has now been sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Ningbo court for “illegally providing intelligence” to foreigners. The New York Times’ Austin Ramzy reports on the sentencing and on criticism from Gui’s supporters:

Mr. Gui, 55, was put on trial in January on charges of providing intelligence overseas, the Ningbo Intermediate People’s Court said in a brief notice announcing the verdict. It said he had applied to restore his Chinese citizenship in 2018, implying that he would give up his Swedish citizenship, and that he did not wish to appeal the verdict. The details could not be independently verified.

Sweden’s foreign ministry said Mr. Gui remained a citizen of Sweden. It urged China to free him.

“We have consistently made it clear that we demand that be released so that he can be reunited with his daughter and family,” the ministry said in a statement. “This demand still stands. We also demand access to our citizen so that we can provide the consular support he is entitled to.”

[…] “How could it be possible to kidnap and sentence people just because they produced a few books?” [Lam Wing-kee, another of the HK booksellers detained in 2015 and went public about his experience] said in an interview.

Mr. Lam said the sentence was a warning that the Chinese government would strictly punish acts of resistance. […] [Source]

Reporting on Gui’s sentence for The Washington Post, Anna Fifield recalls Gui’s work with Causeway Bay and his detentions since 2015, and relays more critique of his sentence:

Human rights advocates sharply criticized the court ruling against the bookseller.

“Today’s sentence of Gui Minhai is an indictment not of him but of the Chinese government’s bottomless hostility towards critics and shameless misuse of its legal system,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Gui has committed no crime and should be released immediately.”

Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International, said the decision was “deplorable” and lacking in transparency.

“Gui has been detained since he went missing in Thailand in 2015. It’s just bizarre to accuse him of providing intelligence while he’s under custody,” he said. [Source]

At The Wall Street Journal, Chun Han Wong notes suspicion that Gui may not have voluntarily renounced his Swedish citizenship, and highlights that the reinstatement of his Chinese citizenship as a new tactic for Chinese authorities:

Foreign diplomats in Beijing say it also highlights the tenuous legal status of Chinese-born foreign nationals in China. China doesn’t recognize dual nationality and its laws state that citizens who settle abroad and attain foreign nationality automatically lose their Chinese citizenship. Even so, Beijing sometimes treats naturalized foreigners more like Chinese citizens.

Rights activists and friends of Mr. Gui say his reinstatement as a Chinese citizen appears to be an unprecedented attempt by Beijing to cut off a naturalized foreign national from consular assistance provided by his adopted country.

“I have never seen this happen before—that they force someone to convert back to Chinese citizenship, for the convenience of the regime,” said Magnus Fiskesjö, a Cornell University associate professor who was a Swedish diplomat in Beijing and has known Mr. Gui since the 1980s.

“They kidnap our citizen, hold him for more than four years, then now they want us to believe he himself requested to change his citizenship back to Chinese?” Mr. Fiskesjö said. [Source]

More on the citizenship question from the Hong Kong Free Press’ Kelly Ho, who also quotes fellow Swedish citizen Peter Dahlin–a legal reform worker who was detained in China in 2016 and delivered a televised coerced confession before being expelled–on Gui’s sentence:

“Our Embassy is now putting its full focus on the matter, in part seeking more information and in part to obtain consular access… We will continue to focus our efforts on obtaining his release,” a [Swedish] press officer said, adding that they are trying to send a Swedish doctor to Gui.

Meanwhile, Peter Dahlin – a fellow Swedish national who also appeared in a televised “confession” in China – told HKFP that the sentencing showed that Beijing did not care about “appearances” any more.

“The charge is ludicrous, the only ‘state secrets’ that Gui may have is knowledge about how Chinese agents kidnapped him in Thailand, and about the torture he has endured after being returned to China. It has long been feared that China could not let Gui leave, as it could not let information about his treatment, and kidnapping, come out, and this is just one in a long list of steps they have taken. As for his supposed renouncing of his Swedish citizenship, it has no legal bearing of course, as Gui has only Swedish citizenship, and not Chinese,” he said. [Source]

On Twitter, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde stated that her diplomats had no access to the trial and that Stockholm is continuing to press for Gui’s release. When asked about the lack of access, China’s foreign ministry said that arrangements will be made after the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic has been resolved.

Last November, Swedish PEN awarded Gui the 2019 Tucholsky Prize, its annual award for persecuted writers, which quickly prompted Beijing to warn Stockholm of potential “consequences.” PEN America’s James Tager has criticized the lengthy prison sentence given to Gui:

“Gui Minhai’s 10-year prison sentence is a wildly unjust punishment, based on absurd and politically motivated charges, resulting from an unannounced trial, within a legal system that has systematically denied Gui any due process. Simply put, this is a farce,” said James Tager, Deputy Director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America. “It is obvious that the Chinese government simply wants an excuse to keep Gui in prison, and have manufactured a set of criminal charges and a matching conviction to allow them to do so.”

[…] “We must remember that Gui Minhai was previously forced to participate in a series of staged confessions after he was abducted. Any statement that the Chinese government makes on Gui’s behalf should be viewed as not credible. It is especially difficult to believe that Gui Minhai would act to re-assert his Chinese citizenship in 2018, after his by Chinese security agents and after years of illegal .” Tager added. [Source]

On Twitter, The New York Times’ Michael Forsythe links to his 2016 article on the salacious stories that Mighty Current/Causeway Bay trafficked in, as a reminder for why Gui may be looking at a 10 year sentence:

See also “How Sweden Copes With Chinese Bullying,” from The Economist.

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