On Monday, February 24, detained Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai was sentenced to 10 years in Chinese jail by the Nigbo Intermediate People’s Court. The court charged Gui with “illegally providing intelligence” overseas. Gui was also stripped of political rights for five years. According to the court, Gui pleaded guilty and will not appeal the sentence.
Gui is co-owner of Mighty Current publishing, whose titles have been banned in mainland China but which are available in Hong Kong, and whose publication is protected under the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. Gui is a Chinese-born Swedish national who first disappeared in 2015 before resurfacing in Chinese detention, where he made a forced confession about his involvement in a hit-and-run car accident.
David Grogan, director of the American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE), stated that Gui’s sentence was an egregious violation of Gui’s civil liberties. “This sentence, and the continued detention of Mr. Gui, represents a violation of international human rights standards and is a serious threat to free expression,” Grogan said. “We continue to believe that Mr. Gui is being imprisoned because of his works’ legitimate criticism of the Chinese Communist party. Mr. Gui’s release is crucial to Chinese compliance with international standards for free expression, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which gives everyone a right to freedom of opinion and expression. We call on the Chinese authorities to release Mr. Gui.”
After being briefly released under house arrest in fall 2017, 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, 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. In December 2019, Sweden’s former ambassador to China, Anna Lindstedt, was charged over unauthorized talks she initiated between Chinese men and Gui’s daughter.
Gui’s detention has caused tension between China and Sweden. In documents released by the Nigbo court, China claims that Gui’s Chinese citizenship was reinstated in 2018, and that hence he is no longer a Swedish citizen (China does not recognize dual citizenship).
Sweden Foreign Minister Ann Linde issued a statement on Twitter denouncing the fact Sweden has not had access to the trial. Linde reaffirmed Gui’s Swedish citizenship, saying, “The government continues to demand that Gui Minhai be released and that we have access to our citizens to provide consular support.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian stated that consular arrangements would be reestablished once the coronavirus outbreak lessens. Further, Lijian said that Gui’s “rights and interests have been fully guaranteed.”
According to The Guardian, Patrick Poon, a China researcher at Amnesty International, commented, “Gui appears to have been tried and convicted in secret, denying him any chance of a fair trial.” Poon continued, “Gui Minhai has all along been kept by the Chinese authorities after he went missing in Thailand in 2015. Illegally providing intelligence to foreign entities? How could he do that?”
In October 2019, ABFE sent a second letter to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) to encourage the commission’s continued commitment to Gui’s release and the protection of the freedom of expression. In the letter, Grogan said, “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.”