Gui Minhai, the Swedish publisher deprived of his freedom for 3,000 days
Abducted by Chinese authorities in Thailand in October 2015, this week, 3 January, marks 3,000 days since Swedish publisher and writer Gui Minhai lost his freedom. The founder of a publishing house known for its investigations into Chinese politics, Gui has become an emblematic figure among the 121 journalists and press freedom defenders currently detained in China. His case reminds the world of the Chinese government's long arm of repression against independent voices.
For the Chinese regime, facilitating the free circulation of words and ideas is a crime. This is the bitter reality unveiled by the story of Swedish publisher Gui Minhai held for 3,000 days – more than eight years – for writing and publishing politically sensitive books.
On 17 October 2015, Gui Minhai was abducted by presumed Chinese intelligence agents in Thailand, where he was taking a holiday, only to reappear on Chinese state television three months later, delivering a forced confession. In the footage, he claimed to have voluntarily travelled to China to turn himself into the police for a supposed crime committed over a decade prior – and for which he had received a sentence that had eventually been suspended.
After two years, Gui was allegedly “released” from detention, but in fact remained under strict surveillance by the Chinese state. In 2018, he was again seized by police on a Beijing-bound train while accompanied by two Swedish diplomats, an incident after which he was apparently made to publicly renounce his Swedish citizenship. Two years later, the Chinese regime announced that he had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for "illegally providing intelligence overseas.” As his daughter Angela Gui said, “it is obvious that my father was arrested for one and only reason: his politically sensitive activities as a publisher.”
The publisher who dedicated his life to the right to information
Born in 1964 in China’s Zhejiang province, Gui moved to Beijing at the age of 17 to study history. During his student years, he developed a passion for poetry and spent much of his time writing. After working as an editor for the People’s Education Press, he moved to Sweden in 1988 for postgraduate studies. Following the Tiananmen massacre in 1989, Gui was granted permanent residency and received Swedish citizenship three years later. He spent more than 30 years of his life in this nordic kingdom.
In 2004, after working in China for five years, Gui moved to Germany where he authored books on the Chinese government. He then joined the Chinese chapter of the nongovernmental organisation PEN International and became a fervent advocate for press freedom in China. His work was to come at a high cost: when Gui attempted to visit his family in China in 2008, he was barred entry into the country. Four years later, Gui founded Mighty Current Media, a publishing house and distributor of books based in Hong Kong, specialised in Chinese politics and the lives of Chinese leaders. In 2014, Mighty Current bought Causeway Bay, a Hong Kong independent bookstore known for selling books banned in mainland China.
Gui’s only daughter, Angela Gui, who has spent years advocating for his release, said “Last time we spoke, I could see that he was missing a tooth. He alluded to having lost it as a result of torture. I have not been able to contact him ever since. I don’t know where he is, if he’s still even alive.” Angela has not heard any news of Gui’s whereabouts since 2018, when she last spoke with him. The Chinese authorities have consistently denied her any contact with her father, claiming that he is treated in a manner compliant with the law as a Chinese citizen.
Five Mighty Current publishers targeted by the Chinese regime
Gui Minhai was not the first person subjected to enforced disappearance after publishing texts that displease Beijing. Between October and December 2015, four other publishers from Mighty Current went missing. In 2016, Lam Wing-kee, disclosed that he was detained and interrogated by the Chinese regime for months, while Cheung Chi-ping, Lui Bo and Lee Bo reappeared in Hong Kong in March 2016, requesting that the police terminate the investigation into their disappearance. Lee and Lam were allowed to return to Hong Kong, but the situation looked different for Cheung and Lui, both born in mainland China and considered “from there” by the regime.
Gui Minhai: the publisher who pays for his work with endless persecution
- 1964: On 5 May, born in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, China.
- 1983: Moves to Beijing to study history at Peking University.
- 1988: Settles in Sweden for postgraduate study, and later works at the University of Gothenburg.
- 1992: Obtains Swedish citizenship.
- 2004: Moves to Germany and starts working as a publisher of books on Chinese politics.
- 2006: Joins the Chinese chapter of PEN International.
- 2008: Denied entry to China while trying to visit his family.
- 2012: Established Mighty Current Media, a Hong Kong-based publishing house specialising in books on Chinese politics.
- 2015: On 17 October, abducted in Thailand while on holiday.
- 2016: On 17 January, reappears in an undisclosed location in China during forced confessions broadcast by the state-controlled television channel CCTV.
- 2016: On 28 February, appears in a second forced confession broadcasted on Chinese channel Phoenix TV.
- 2017: On 17 October, allegedly "released" from detention, but in reality placed under residential surveillance by the regime.
- 2018: On 19 January, Angela Gui, Gui Minhai’s daughter, spoke on the phone with her father for the last time.
- 2018: On 20 January, apprehended again by suspected state security agents while on a train with two Swedish diplomats.
- 2018: On 9 February, resurfaces in a third forced confession published in several Chinese newspapers.
- 2020: On 25 February, sentenced to 10 years for "illegally providing intelligence overseas."
- 2020 - onwards: No news on Gui Minhai’s whereabouts or location of detention.
Ranked 179th out of 180 countries and territories in the 2023 RSF World Press Freedom Index, China is the world's largest jailer of journalists and press freedom defenders, with at least 121 currently detained.