Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen, is co-owner of the Mighty Current publishing house—famed for producing books that delve into the private lives of China’s leadership—and a writer, publisher, and former Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC) Board member. Gui disappeared from his beach house in Thailand on October 17, 2015 and later resurfaced in mainland China; it is believed that he was abducted and brought to China against his will. On January 17, 2016, the Chinese state-run channel CCTV aired a videotaped statement by Gui in which he claimed he went to the mainland voluntarily, but observers believe that his confession was forced. On October 24, 2017, Gui Minhai’s daughter stated that the Swedish embassy in Beijing had been informed by the Chinese government of Gui Minhai’s release on October 17. However, there is no physical proof of his release; he has not contacted his friends or family and his whereabouts are not publically known.

CASE BACKGROUND

Gui Minhai is a poet, author, and book publisher and one of the “Causeway Bay Bookstore Five,” a group of five booksellers affiliated with Causeway Bay Books and its owner, Mighty Current Media. All five booksellers disappeared under mysterious circumstances in late 2015, only to later reappear in Chinese state custody in mainland China. The evidence clearly demonstrates that Chinese security agents were responsible for these disappearances.

Mighty Current Media is a Hong Kong-based publishing company best known for its sensational books about Chinese leaders’ private lives: such books are banned in mainland China, but legal in Hong Kong. Causeway Bay Bookstore was similarly well-known as a bookstore offering such banned books.

Between October and December 2015, five men affiliated with Causeway Bay and Mighty Current disappeared:

  • Cheung Chi-ping, the business manager of Mighty Current;
  • Lui Por, the general manager and one of three co-owners of Mighty Current;
  • Lam Wing-kee,  the manager of Causeway Bay Books (and founder and owner of the bookstore prior to its acquisition by Mighty Current in 2014);
  • Lee Bo, an editor at Mighty Current; and
  • Gui Minhai, a co-owner and publisher of Mighty Current.

Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen who reportedly renounced his Chinese citizenship decades ago, disappeared from his vacation home in Pattaya, Thailand on October 17, 2015. He reappeared months later in Chinese custody. Gui and his colleagues later appeared in a set of “confessional videos” that—all evidence indicates—were scripted and staged by government authorities.

In the months since, four of the five booksellers—all but Gui Minhai—were released from detention, though they remain under the coercive power of the Chinese state.

CASE HISTORY

October 2017: On October 24, Angela Gui stated that the Chinese government claimed to have released Gui Minhai on October 17th. When the Swedish embassy attempted to contact Gui Minhai on that day, they were informed that he had already been released. However, his whereabouts are not publically known, and he has not contacted his family or friends.  

October 2016: On the one-year anniversary of Gui Minhai’s abduction, his daughter Angela publishes an article in The Washington Post appealing to the public not to forget her father’s case and calling for democratic countries to step up their pressure on the Chinese government.

September 2016: After repeated requests for consular access to Gui, Swedish diplomats are granted a brief meeting with him. This meeting marks only the second time in almost a year that Swedish officials have had access to Gui, a Swedish citizen.

June 2016: Sweden’s Consul-General to Hong Kong, Helena Storm, gives an interview to the South China Morning Post in which she confirms that China has denied Sweden consular access to Gui since the brief February visit. Consul-General Storm says that Sweden continues to “request answers on the legal process and any charges against him” and that it expects these accusations “to be dealt with within the framework of the rule of law.”

May 2016: The U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, an independent government agency that monitors human rights in China, holds a hearing on the disappearances. Gui’s daughter Angela testifies, calling for international attention and help for her father’s case. She confirms that Chinese authorities have told the Swedish government that Gui wishes to give up his Swedish citizenship. A Swedish government spokesperson responds, saying, “According to our information, Mr. Gui is a Swedish citizen.”

February 2016: After repeated requests for consular access to Gui, Swedish diplomats are allowed a brief meeting with him for the first time. At the meeting, Gui tells Swedish diplomats that he does not want their assistance. Later in the month, Lui Por, Cheung Chi-ping, Lam Wing-kee and Gui Minhai all appear on Phoenix TV, a privately-owned Hong Kong-based news outlet that enjoys close ties to the Chinese government.  In their interviews, Lui, Cheung, and Lam purportedly confess to distributing unlicensed books on the mainland, selling unauthorized books in China via an online platform, and evading customs inspections to deliver about 4,000 books to 380 customers since October 2014.  Lui, Cheung, and Lam all name Gui as the lead figure in this unauthorized distribution. Gui, in his interview, confesses that he has “explored ways to circumvent official inspections in China.” This series of videos are similarly widely understood—including by PEN America—to be forced confessions.

January 2016: CCTV, Chinese state television, airs a videotaped statement by Gui in which he claims he went to the mainland voluntarily. Gui says that he had previously fled the mainland after receiving a two-year suspended sentence for his involvement in a fatal drunk driving accident in 2003. He claims that he returned to the mainland to turn himself in. The video immediately raises suspicions that Gui’s confession was forced.

Swedish Deputy Finance Minister Per Bolund, speaking to the South China Morning Post, urges Chinese authorities to show openness and allow Swedish authorities to contact Gui. The Swedish embassy in Beijing notes the “repeated denial of consular access to Mr. Gui Minhai.” Margot Wallstrom, Sweden’s minister for foreign affairs, echoes the message of the Swedish embassy in Beijing, stating she is “very concerned” about Gui and that Swedish “efforts to bring clarity to his situation and be granted the opportunity to visit him continue with unabated intensity.”

December 2015: The Guardian runs an article about Gui Minhai’s disappearance. In it, Angela Gui explains that her father has made regular calls to his wife, “telling her he is fine but not answering any questions regarding his whereabouts.” Gui’s colleague Lee Bo tells The Guardian, “We don’t know what happened and we don’t know who has taken him, whether they were Chinese or Thai. Nothing is clear.” (Lee Bo himself disappears days later).

November 2015: Gui contacts his daughter Angela after failing to respond to her messages for two weeks after his disappearance. Via Skype message, he says, “I have put [HK$30,000] in your account in Hong Kong, and hope you will be fine with everything.” Bei Ling, the former president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center and longtime friend of Gui, travels to Pattaya, Thailand, to investigate the circumstances of Gui’s disappearance. During Bei’s investigation, he obtains video surveillance from Gui’s apartment from October 17 and learns from authorities that there is no written record of Gui leaving Thailand.

October 2015: Gui Minhai, co-owner of the Mighty Current publishing house and a Swedish citizen, is last heard from when he sends an email to his business partner Lee Bo to say he has arrived in Thailand and to invite Lee to stay with him at his vacation condominium in Pattaya. Gui also sends an email to his printers asking them to get ready for a new book. On October 17, Gui disappears from his condominium. Surveillance footage from his building shows an unidentified man lingering outside the building until Gui arrives. A few hours later, the man gets into Gui’s car and the two drive off.  Gui then calls the management company of his building and tells the attendant to put his fruit in the refrigerator and lock his apartment.

FREE EXPRESSION IN CHINA

In recent years, addressing the dire situation for free expression in China has been one of PEN America’s signature campaigns. With the world’s largest population, and with increased economic and political heft, China’s extensive censorship apparatus limits speech both within and outside its borders. Although new digital platforms have expanded the means of expression, they have also provided more opportunities for repression: in China, even a simple Tweet can land its author in jail. Since President Xi Jinping took office in early 2013, he has overseen an extensive crackdown on free speech, implementing additional laws and censorship controls on the Internet, media, and publishers. In addition, individual Chinese writers, journalists, and creative artists have been censored, harassed, imprisoned, and even disappeared after they speak out about sensitive topics such as the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, corruption, and the lack of democratic reform. Several dozen are currently behind bars because of their writings or creative expression. Read more about freedom of expression in China here.

IN THEIR WORDS

…even Chinese citizens were expressing skepticism in social media about the official explanation to my father’s disappearance. But how long before that doubt has been erased by China’s panoptic censorship apparatus?—Angela Gui, daughter of Gui Minhai

Statements by Angela Gui:
Britain is looking away as China tramples on the freedom of Hong Kong – and my father  
Who will remember my father, Gui Minhai?
A call that never comes: Why I cannot remain silent after Chinese authorities abducted my father

For Swedish language please see:
”Sverige kan göra mer för Gui Minhai”
Sverige blir ett skämt efter ännu en kidnappning i Hongkong
Margot Wallström: Det är bråttom nu

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Free Gui Minhai