Gui Minhai has not appeared in public since the announcement of his "release" on 24 October and is said to be staying with relatives in the eastern city of Ningbo while waiting for his passport to be renewed and for the Chinese authorities to let him travel to Germany, where his wife lives.
“We are relieved by this announcement but we will not be able to talk of Gui Minhai’s release until he actually leaves China,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “His abduction, detention and forced confession on TV are illegal practices that should not exist.”
Last of the five Hong Kong booksellers
A co-owner of Causeway Bay Books, a Hong Kong bookstore, and Mighty Current, a publishing house specializing in sensationalist revelations about the private lives of Chinese leaders, Gui went missing on 14 October 2015 and was probably abducted by Chinese intelligence agents from his home in the Thai city of Pattaya.
Four other Causeway Bay Books shareholders and employees who were kidnapped around the same time were gradually released the following spring.
But Gui appeared on China’s state-owned CCTV on 17 January 2016 giving a “spontaneous” confession that was filmed in a Chinese detention centre. In tears, he said he had returned voluntarily to China to assume his “legal responsibility” for the death of a school student in a traffic accident in China years before, when he was driving while under the influence of alcohol.
The account was not very credible, especially as he had already served a sentence at the time of the accident.
Warning to government opponents
“By abducting a foreign citizen outside China, the Chinese state apparatus sent a very clear warning to its opponents that it is not afraid to go after anyone publishing unwanted information, regardless of their passport or place of residence,” said Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia bureau.
“We urge the international community to do more to get China to respect international law and to release the dozens of journalists and bloggers who are still in prison.”
The Chinese Communist Party’s 19th congress, which finished last week, approved another five-year term for President Xi Jinping, who has developed a sophisticated apparatus for censoring news and information, spying on the public and cracking down on human rights activities.
The People’s Republic of China is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Index, the same position as in 2016 and 2015.