January 23, 2018

An award-winning Swedish publisher is disappeared in China… again


Gui Minhai, right, with his friend Bei Ling at the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair.

The case of Gui Minhai, the Swedish publisher abducted by the Chinese government in 2015, detained on manifestly bogus charges, and coerced into a televised false confession, seemingly in retribution for his role publishing gossipy tell-alls about figures in the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong (where it is legal to do so), took a stark turn for the worse this weekend.

Chris Buckley reports for the New York Times that Gui was on a train this weekend bound from his native Ningbo—where he had been imprisoned for more than two years, and living under murkily-defined house arrest since October—to Beijing for a medical examination, escorted by two representatives of the Swedish Consulate in Shanghai. As the train neared its destination, a group of around ten officials in street clothes boarded it and took Gui into custody.

It remains unclear which agency the officials were representing. Among other possibilities, they may have been enforcing an order from one agency that conflicted with those of another; this would account for some of the seeming inconsistency in Gui’s being nominally released and shortly thereafter abducted.

Reportedly, Gui was traveling to Beijing to meet with a doctor at Sweden’s embassy there, after exhibiting early symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the neurological condition more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Buckley reports that Swedish diplomats were told Gui had been suspected of meeting with them illegally and sharing secret information. But there’s no reason to believe Gui had access to any secret information, and he’d visited his nation’s Shanghai consulate repeatedly without incident. Gui’s status in recent months has not been entirely clear. While he had formally been released from custody, there is little chance that he was remaining in China of his own volition, and speculation that he hoped to travel to a home he owns in Germany was widespread.

Gui’s daughter, Angela Gui, with whom we spoke back in May, told Buckley this weekend’s abduction marked “a very drastic turn for the worse.”

Exiled Chinese poet Bei Ling wrote on Twitter that “as an old friend, I believe [Gui] would like to return to his residence in Germany as soon as possible. Regardless of how many twists and turns appear, the Chinese government will eventually have to release him, because his will is clear and firm.”

As we’ve written before, some strong talk, but very little strong action, has been forthcoming from Sweden, the only nation of which Gui is a citizen, on his behalf. But pressure there seems to be building.

In a statement provided to Phila Siu and Catherine Wong of the South China Morning Post, Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström said, “The Swedish government has detailed knowledge of what has happened and I have summoned China’s ambassador. I have also been promised information about Mr. Gui’s situation.” She added that “the situation has worsened since Saturday morning.”

Karin Olsson, culture editor at the Swedish newspaper Expressen, said on Twitter  that Gui had been “kidnapped,” and called the incident “appalling.” That it had taken place despite a Swedish diplomatic escort she called a “joke” that “reveals China’s view of Sweden, if nothing else.”

As we have before, we reached out to anthropologist Magnus Fiskesjö, a longtime friend of Gui’s and fellow Swede. His patience, too, seemed to be wearing:

Chinese authorities were already testing our patience when they held our citizen for two years. Then, back in October, they said they’d released him, but he could not leave, which was very dismaying for everyone hoping to see him actually released. Now, it’s much worse: A gang of men show up in civilian clothes, claim to be policemen without a warrant or identification, and haul away someone their government says “has been released.” And this in the presence of our diplomats who are escorting him to receive medical care. That’s truly offensive to our nation. The lack of resolution or even information now has everyone quite upset, even angry, with China.

Just last week, Gui was named as one of five nominees for the 2018 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.”


UPDATE: Today, Foreign Minister Margot Wallström has released a strongly-worded statement demanding Gui’s release. Roughly translated:

We regard it as most serious that the Swedish citizen Gui Minhai without any detailed explanation was detained by Chinese authorities during an ongoing consular support effort last Saturday.

China’s ambassador in Stockholm has been summoned to the Foreign Ministry both Saturday and today.

As has been reported in the media, Gui Minhai at the time of his seizure was accompanied by diplomatic personel, who were acting to give consular support to a Swedish citizen in need of medical attention. This was entirely in accordance with fundamental international rules, which allow us to give consular support to our citizens.

Chinese authorities have on repeated occasions assured us that Gui Minhai is a free man since his release after completing his sentence for a traffic offense, and that we may have the contacts we wish to have with our citizen.

We expect the immediate release of our citizen, and that he be given the opportunity to meet  with Swedish diplomatic and medical personel.

Writing yesterday in the GuardianTom Phillips pointed to further evidence of mounting anger among Swedes, citing an editorial published this week in the Swedish paper Borås Tidning under the title “Is there anything China won’t get away with?” Phillips also addresses the economic football most immediately at play, the port China hopes to build in the Swedish city of Lysekil. We’ve written in detail on the interplay between civil rights and trade concerns in Gui’s case.

We’ll continue to follow this story as details emerge.



Ian Dreiblatt is the former Director of Digital Media at Melville House.