This week, the American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) expressed solidarity with Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (German Publishers and Booksellers Association) CEO Alexander Skipis in support of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and again urged the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China to work towards the release of bookseller Gui Minhai — a Chinese-born Swedish national and co-owner of Mighty Current Media who is being held in Chinese detention for selling and publishing books critical of the Communist Party’s regime.
At the Frankfurt Book Fair on Thursday, October 17, attendees held a vigil in support of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong by gathering with open umbrellas. The vigil was organized by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, Amnesty International, European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF), International Publishers Association (IPA), PEN-Zentrum, and PEN International.
German Publishers and Booksellers Association CEO Alexander Skipis used the opportunity to call attention to the 2015 kidnapping of Gui Minhai. “Freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly are basic human rights and, as such, they are non-negotiable…. We hereby declare our solidarity with Gui Minhai and the freedom fighters in Hong Kong. We call for the immediate release of the author, bookseller, and publisher Minhai, and we also demand freedom for all imprisoned artists and culture professionals worldwide,” said Skipis.
Echoing the sentiments of Skipis, ABA Director of ABFE David Grogan said, “We urge the authorities in China to release Mr. Gui. ABFE believes the detention of Mr. Gui represents an egregious violation of international human rights standards and a serious threat to free expression.”
ABFE also used this time to send a second letter (below) to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) to encourage the Commission’s continued commitment to Mr. Gui’s release and the protection of the freedom of expression. ABFE first contacted the CECC in March 2018 to urge the Commission to demand Mr. Gui’s swift release and express serious concerns over the implications for free expression in Hong Kong. In its most recent letter, ABFE asked the CECC for renewed assistance in liberating Mr. Gui and offered its help as the process moves forward.
On Tuesday, October 15, The Hong Kong Human Rights & Democracy Act of 2019 unanimously passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and now awaits Senate approval before heading to President Trump’s desk. The Act, introduced in the House by former CECC Chair Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ4) and in the Senate by CECC Cochair Marco Rubio (R-FL), would require the State Department to annually re-certify Hong Kong’s autonomy from China in order for Hong Kong to continue to receive special treatment by the U.S. Importantly, it provides steps for the President to deny entry into the United States and impose sanctions on those responsible for “the actual or threatened rendition, arbitrary detention, torture, or forced confession of any individual in Hong Kong.” Furthermore, the act would protect Hong Kong’s citizens from being denied U.S. visas solely based on politically motivated arrests such as arrests made in connection with nonviolent protesting.
Chinese officials called the House’s passage “arrogant and dangerous” and asserted that the act “openly supports the opposition and radical forces in Hong Kong.”
Mr. Gui was among five Hong Kong booksellers who disappeared in 2015 before resurfacing in Chinese detention, where he made a forced confession about his involvement in a hit-and-run car accident. After being briefly released under house arrest in fall 2017, Mr. Gui was once again seized by plainclothes Chinese officials in January 2018 while on his way to Beijing with two Swedish diplomats for medical treatment for ALS symptoms. On February 8, 2018, Mr. Gui was once again coerced by Chinese police into making a statement saying he resisted any help from organizations or countries working for his release. Little has been heard from him since.
Scott Flipse, Director of Policy & Media Relations
Congressional-Executive Commission on China
243 Ford House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Director Flipse,
The American Booksellers Association, a not-for-profit trade association of independent booksellers across the country, is following up on the status of bookseller and publisher Gui Manhai. Mr. Gui, a Chinese-born Swedish national, is currently being detained by the Chinese government for selling and publishing books critical of the Communist Party’s regime.
As you know, Mr. Gui was among five Hong Kong booksellers who disappeared in 2015 before resurfacing in Chinese detention where he made a forced confession about his involvement in a hit-and-run car accident. After being briefly released under house arrest in fall 2017, Mr. Gui was once again seized by plainclothes Chinese officials in January 2018 while on his way to Beijing with two Swedish diplomats for medical treatment for ALS symptoms. On February 8, 2018, Mr. Gui was once again coerced by Chinese police into making a statement saying he resisted any help from organizations or countries working for his release.
We first reached out about Mr. Gui in March 2018 to urge the Congressional-Executive Commission on China to dedicate significant resources to Mr. Gui’s case, which represents a serious threat to free expression everywhere. We are pleased that The Hong Kong Human Rights & Democracy Act of 2019, which recently passed the House, offers protections for Hong Kong protestors and imposes sanctions and travel restrictions on those found responsible for threats or actions against Hong Kong’s autonomy. While we are glad to see that the Commission has been involved in cases of abducted booksellers in Hong Kong, ultimately, Mr. Gui still remains in Chinese custody without access to proper medical care or appropriate counsel.
We would appreciate any advice on how the American Booksellers Association can be of assistance as the process to release Mr. Gui continues. This case sends a frightening message to all booksellers, writers, and publishers in Hong Kong that simply exercising free expression is a danger to their lives.
We thank you for your time and respectfully encourage the Congressional-Executive Commission on China to act with urgency on behalf of Mr. Gui. Please let us know how we can be of assistance.
David Grogan, Director, American Booksellers for Free Expression, Advocacy and Public Policy
American Booksellers Association
333 Westchester Ave, Suite 202
White Plains, NY 10604