Swedish Ambassador Charged Over Unauthorized Talks to Free Bookseller in Chinese Detention

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The Swedish government has charged former ambassador to China Anna Lindstedt over unauthorized talks she initiated between Chinese men and the daughter of detained bookseller Gui Minhai. According to a statement from deputy chief public prosecutor for Sweden’s National Security Unit Hans Ihrman, Lindstedt is charged with “arbitrariness during negotiations with a foreign power.”

Sweden launched an investigation into Lindstedt in February 2019 after learning of a series of unauthorized meetings she coordinated with two men and Mr. Gui’s daughter about the detained bookseller’s release. Angela Gui explained in a blog post that Lindstedt invited her to Sweden in January 2019 to explore “a new approach” to freeing her father. Lindstedt assured Ms. Gui that these men were people she trusted.

According to Ms. Gui, the talks were a “very strange experience.” The meetings were held in a hotel lounge requiring keycard access. Any time Ms. Gui needed to use the restroom, someone would escort her there and back. In her post, Ms. Gui expressed that “because Ambassador Lindstedt was present and seemingly supportive of whatever it was that was going on, I kept assuming that this had been initiated by the Swedish Foreign Ministry.”

At one point during the meetings, the men offered Ms. Gui a job at the Chinese Embassy in Stockholm — an offer she declined. The meetings quickly took a turn for the worse when Ms. Gui was told she needed to stop speaking out about her father’s case if she wanted him to be released. Describing the event, Ms. Gui said in her blog post, “Ambassador Lindstedt, who was sat next to me, agreed to the plan. She said that if my father was released, she’d go on Swedish television and speak of the bright future of Sweden-China relations.”

When Ms. Gui called the Swedish Foreign Ministry one week later, she learned that the Ministry had not initiated the meetings and was unaware Lindstedt was even in Sweden.

Deputy chief prosecutor Hans Ihrman said that Lindstedt is “suspected of having acted outside the bounds of the authority granted to her…. In this specific consular matter, she has exceeded her mandate and has therefore rendered herself criminally liable.”

If found guilty, Lindstedt could face up to two years in prison.

Tensions between China and Sweden are on the rise as the free expression group Swedish PEN awarded Mr. Gui its annual Tucholsky Prize for persecuted or exiled writers last month. The Chinese Embassy in Sweden called the award “a farce” and warned Swedish PEN that it would “suffer the consequences.” Later, the Chinese Ambassador to Sweden threatened to ban Amanda Lind, Sweden’s Minister of Culture, from visiting China if she participated in the award ceremony. In the face of this threat, Lind both attended the ceremony and presented Mr. Gui with the award in absentia. In addition, earlier this month, the Chinese Ambassador to Sweden announced to the Swedish newspaper Goteborgs-Posten that it would scale back trade with Sweden as a result of Mr. Gui’s case.

Mr. Gui is a Chinese-born Swedish national who is currently being detained by the Chinese government for selling and publishing books critical of the Communist Party’s regime. Mr. Gui was among five Hong Kong booksellers who disappeared in 2015 before resurfacing in Chinese detention, where he made a forced confession about being involved 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. On February 8, 2018, Mr. Gui was again coerced by Chinese police into making a statement saying he resisted any help from organizations or countries working for his release.

In October, the American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) sent a second letter 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. In the letter, American Booksellers Association Director of ABFE David 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.”