February 2, 2018
Gui Minhai, his whereabouts unknown, wins the Prix Voltaire as the international clamor on his behalf grows louder
by Ian Dreiblatt
Last week, we continued our years-long coverage of the plight of Swedish publisher and bookseller Gui Minhai, with the unfortunate news that Gui had been abducted by the People’s Republic of China — again. While Gui was on a train to be treated for early signs of ALS at the Swedish Embassy in Beijing, a group of unidentified, plainclothes security personnel took him into custody, despite the Swedish diplomatic entourage by whom he was accompanied, and vanished with him. He has not been heard from since.
We also mentioned last week that Gui had for the second time been nominated for the Prix Voltaire, which the International Publishers Association awards annually to “a person or organization adjudged to have made a significant contribution to the defence and promotion of freedom to publish in the world.” Yesterday, the IPA announced he had won it. Kristenn Enairsson, chair of the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee, said, “The plight of Gui Minhai is an example of the risks some publishers face to bring diverse authors’ voices to the public. It is only right that the publishing community commends him for his bravery, when that bravery has seen him deprived of his freedom.”
Gui’s daughter Angela, who has been a tireless advocate for his freedom, tweeted that she was “immensely proud, and sad.”
The award comes amid a swelling of international support for Gui. Late last week, the US State Department finally spoke out, when spokesperson Heather Nauert released a statement describing her government as “deeply concerned” over his disappearance and calling on Chinese authorities “to explain the reasons and legal basis for Mr. Gui’s arrest and detention, disclose his whereabouts, and allow him freedom of movement and the freedom to leave China.”
Besides Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, she was also echoing the sentiments of Hans Dietmar Schweisgut, the EU’s ambassador to China, who had recently said, “We expect the Chinese authorities to immediately release Mr. Gui Minhai from detention and allow him to reunite with his family, to get consular support and to get medical support.” Other EU officials have offered similar statements. Yesterday, Amnesty International also put out an urgent call for his release.
In Gui’s own country, concern for his wellbeing grows more intense by the day. On Tuesday, Swedish MEP Marita Ulvskog, a Social Democrat, said in a tweet that she had written a letter on Gui’s behalf to Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
In the Guardian last week, Swedish journalist Jojje Olsson, who has just published a book on Gui, pointed to the power of international trade agreements as a tool by which China escapes culpability for flouting international law. (We’ve made the same point.) The most-watched Chinese development project in Sweden has long been the planned construction of a port in Lysekil, which would have been the largest in Scandinavia. On Wednesday, Olsson tweeted that global protests had curdled the deal.
In the absence of any official explanation for Gui’s detention or of his whereabouts, some are turning to an editorial published last week in China’s ultra-nationalist Global Times, generally understood to be a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party. Titled “Western media has no right to interfere in China’s judicial process” (’nuff said), it acknowledges that Gui has been kidnapped by government forces—which is more information than Chinese officials have offered—but accuses Western media of “sensationalizing” the incident and wanting to “wield their hegemonic discourse power to manipulate the judgment of sensitive information about China and therefore continue to attack China’s political system.”
As we have before, we reached out to Eli Friedman, a sociologist and author who has written on China for Jacobin, The Nation, and other publications, and is knowledgeable about Chinese security practices.
Given what appears to be his considerable and increasing inconvenience to authorities in Beijing, we asked Friedman whether he thought Gui’s life might be in danger. “I think it’s extremely unlikely that the regime would kill him to make the problem go away,” he told us. “It would almost certainly make the problem much worse. The Communist Party is capable of monstrous things, but in the post-Mao era, they have largely shied away from assassinations, even against people they really detest. The case of Liu Xiaobo does, however, raise the possibility that they might subject him to conditions that lead to a serious decline in health, and given the reports that he may be suffering ALS, this is a real concern.”
Ian Dreiblatt is the director of digital media at Melville House.