Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen and Hong Kong resident, 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 Center (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. Gui Minhai spent several years in arbitrary detention, with almost no access to visits by Swedish consular officials, and no contact with his family. On February 25, 2020, he was sentenced to ten years in prison and five years’ deprivation of “political rights” by the Ningbo Intermediate People’s Court in Zhejiang Province for “illegally providing intelligence.”
February 25, 2020: PEN America releases a press statement in response to Gui’s 10-year prison sentence, condemning the Chinese court’s absurd decision based on fabricated charges and an unfair trial.
April 4, 2018: PEN America revisits the case of Gui Minhai with a special focus on the latest developments on his case. The post calls into attention the deteriorating health conditions of the writer in detention and the orchestrated televised interviews in which the members of the members of the Causeway Bay Bookstore Five they “confessed” to various “crimes,” including “illegal business activity,” an apparent reference to their sale of these unflattering books.
February 12, 2018: PEN America publishes a press release where it condemns the video interview of Gui Minhai, in which he claims not to desire international attention for his case. PEN describes the interview as “staged” and “another demonstration of China’s lack of regard for international law or human rights.”
January 22, 2018: PEN America says the Chinese authorities’ seizure of Gui Minhai while being escorted to a medical appointment by Swedish diplomats is an outrageous violation of the rule of law, human rights, and free expression, calling for the entire international community to condemn his arbitrary seizure.
October 24, 2017: PEN America calls on the Chinese authorities to unambiguously establish the whereabouts of Swedish publisher Gui Minhai who has disappeared from his Thailand vacation home on October 17, 2015.
November 5, 2016: PEN America publishes its report Writing on the Wall: Disappeared Booksellers and Free Expression in Hong Kong, which provides the most comprehensive account to date of the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers in late 2015, with a special attention to the worrying cases of booksellers Gui Minhai and Lee Bo.
February 17, 2016: PEN America signs a letter with other organizations addressed to the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong, Leung Chun-ying, urging the government to Hong Kong to do everything in its power to investigate the cases of Cheung Chi-ping, Gui Minhai, Lam Wing-kee, Lee Bo, and Lui Por, who are confirmed to be detained by mainland Chinese police, at the same time demanding their release.
January 4, 2016: Upon the disappearance of five men, including Gui Minhai, associated with a Hong Kong publisher known for its scathing exposés of Chinese officials, PEN America releases a statement expressing concern over the fading autonomy of the territory’s press and publishing industry,
Gui Minhai is a poet, author, and book publisher, and is 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 re-appeared 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 following, four of the five booksellers—all but Gui Minhai—were released from detention, though they remain under the coercive power of the Chinese state. Gui Minhai remained in detention and a brief period of closely monitored house arrest, separated from his friends and family and without access to a lawyer. The Chinese government has still not offered any satisfactory account of how he and his colleagues disappeared only to re-emerge in Chinese custody.
July 10, 2020: The Stockholm district court finds Anna Lindstedt, former Swedish ambassador to China, not guilty of exceeding her authority in negotiating with a foreign power. Lindstedt was dismissed from her post and under investigation for her involvement in unauthorized meetings to release Gui Minhai.
February 25, 2020: Gui is sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and five years’ deprivation of “political rights” by the Ningbo Intermediate People’s Court in Zhejiang Province for “illegally providing evidence.”
February 20, 2020: Swedish PEN, PEN International, and the six largest newspapers in Sweden publish an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping, calling on China to refrain from threatening supporters of Gui Minhai, to respect his rights, and to release him from detention. The letter is signed by 30 prominent publishers, writers, and academics.
December 9, 2019: As a result of an investigation launched in February, Sweden’s former ambassador to China Anne Lindstedt is charged with “arbitrariness during negotiations with a foreign power” for her involvement in unauthorized meetings to release Gui Minhai. In a statement, an official from the Swedish Prosecution Authority explains that Lindstedt “exceeded her mandate and has therefore rendered herself criminally liable.”
December 4, 2019: Ambassador Gui suggests that China will leverage economic sanctions against Sweden at a public seminar in Gothenburg, Sweden. Nearly a week later, a Chinese trade delegation cancels meetings with Sweden.
November 2019: On November 4, Swedish PEN announces that they will award Gui Minhai with the Tucholsky prize for writers in prison. Two weeks later, Chinese Ambassador to Sweden Gui Congyou states in an interview with Sveriges Radio that China opposes Swedish PEN’s decision to honor Gui Minhai, calling him a “criminal and lie-fabricator.” On November 15, Swedish PEN formally awards Gui Minhai with the Tucholsky prize at Bonniers Konsthall in central Stockholm.
February 14, 2019: Anna Lindstedt, the Swedish ambassador to China is sent back to Sweden and dismissed from her post after authorities accused her of “incorrectly handling” unauthorized meetings intended to help free Gui.
January 24, 2019: Gui’s daughter, Angela, and Sweden’s Ambassador to China, Anna Lindstedt, meet with two Chinese businessmen. In an article Angela publishes recounting the meeting, Angela says the businessmen told her she had to stop speaking out about Gui’s case if she wanted them to continue negotiating on his behalf. Angela, who was previously unaware of such negotiations, refused to do so despite verbal attacks. Lindstedt, according to Angela, trusted the businessmen, believing Angela should have accepted the deal.
Both the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese Embassy in Stockholm claim ignorance of such meetings, the former launching an internal investigation of Lindstedt and appointing an interim in her place.
August 13, 2018: Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström announces that a Swedish doctor has examined Gui Minhai.
July 2018: The Washington Post publishes two previously unpublished poems by Gui Minhai. One of the poems, entitled “Père David’s deer,” was written while Gui was in detention. The article also highlights the grave concerns that Angela Gui, Gui Minhai’s daughter, has for her father’s health.
February 8, 2018: Gui appears before reporters at a detainment center in Ningbo claiming, in what appears to be his third forced interview, that after daily berating from Swedish authorities, he fell for their plan to use his medical appointment on January 20, 2018 as a cover for transportation to the Swedish embassy. He accuses the Swedes of ruining his life and vows never to trust them again, saying they are “sensationalizing” his case.
January 2018: Gui was traveling to Beijing by train for a medical exam after showing symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) with two Swedish diplomats on Saturday, January 20, when he was seized by plainclothes police and forcibly removed from the train. After the incident, Chinese officials reportedly told Swedish diplomats that Gui was suspected of sharing secret information with the Swedes, and of meeting them illegally.
October 2017: Gui is briefly released into a form of closely monitored house arrest.
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.”
Angela Gui, the daughter of bookseller Gui Minhai who previously went missing from Thailand, has appeared at a US congressional commission hearing on China.
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 dozens are currently behind bars because of their writings or creative expression. Read more about freedom of expression in China here.
IN THEIR WORDS
“It would be embarrassing To stop writing poems Because the poetry has been caged” —Gui Minhai, from his collection of poetry entitled I Draw a Door on the Wall with My Finger. Including poetry written by Gui from prison, the collection was published in 2020 on Gui’s birthday, May 5.
“. . . even Chinese citizens were expressing skepticism in social media about the official explanation of 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
For more information see PEN America’s report:
Writing on the Wall: Disappeared Booksellers and Free Expression in Hong Kong
PEN America’s comprehensive report on the Causeway Bay Bookstore Disappearances, including its analysis of forced confessions, of the role the Chinese state played in the five disappearances, and of the implications for Hong Kong’s “One Country, Two Systems” framework. The report includes a detailed timeline of the disappearances.
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