Although suffering from serious health problems, the 55-year-old Swedish citizen has been detained arbitrarily in China since shortly after going missing while on vacation in Thailand in 2015. The part owner of a Hong Kong-based publishing house that specialised in publishing books with sensational details about the private lives of Chinese leaders, Gui was the last of five publishers to mysteriously disappear in 2015 only to later resurface on Chinese state TV delivering forced confessions.
In yesterday’s sentencing announcement, the Ningbo Intermediate People’s Court claimed that Gui had pleaded guilty and would not appeal. The court also said that, although he had become a naturalized Swedish citizen in 1996, he had decided to resume his Chinese citizenship in 2018.
RSF condemns this outrageous travesty of justice and calls on democratic nations to put pressure on Chinese authorities to free Gui and all of the other journalists and bloggers imprisoned in China.
“This case sets a dangerous precedent in which Beijing has assumed the right to kidnap an EU citizen, hold him arbitrarily for more than four years, and then give him a jail term that amounts to a death sentence in the light of his state of health,” said Erik Halkjaer, the president of RSF Sweden. “We urge the international community to step up pressure on China to free Gui Minhai and all other detained journalists and bloggers."
“This persecution of a foreign citizen in violation of both the Chinese constitution and international law shows that the Chinese government takes the democracies’ passivity for granted,” said Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia desk. “If it doesn’t encounter more resistance, Xi Jinping’s regime will know that it can act with impunity when it kidnaps its opponents anywhere in the world, holds them incommunicado for as long as it wants, parades them on TV like cattle at a fair, claims against all evidence that they are free, and even prevents them from seeking medical care.”
Kidnapped in Thailand
The main shareholder of Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay bookstore and the Mighty Current publishing house, Gui went missing on 14 October 2015, when he was probably kidnapped by Chinese intelligence agents from his holiday home in the Thai resort city of Pattaya. He reappeared on China’s state-owned CCTV on 17 January 2016, giving a supposedly “spontaneous” confession that had been filmed in a Chinese detention centre.
The Chinese authorities proceeded to accuse him of “illegal commercial operations,” “divulging state secrets” and even “illegally keeping the company of foreign diplomats.” In 2017, they prevented him from seeing a doctor chosen by the Swedish embassy, although he had the symptoms of a serious neurological ailment.
RSF repeatedly called for Gui’s release and submitted his case to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Swedish PEN awarded him the Tucholsky Prize for persecuted writers at a ceremony on 15 November 2019 attended by Sweden’s culture minister, prompting threats of “counter-measures” by China’s ambassador to Sweden, Gui Congyou. A group of press freedom defenders including RSF called for Gui’s immediate release in an open letter to Xi Jinping that was published in Sweden’s six largest newspapers last week.
With more than 100 journalists currently detained, China is ranked 177th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index. Sweden is ranked third.