China jails Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai for 10 years

Jun Mai

A Chinese court has convicted Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai for “illegally providing intelligence for overseas entities”, almost five years after he was first detained.

Gui was sentenced to 10 years in prison and deprivation of political rights for five years by a Chinese court on Monday. A statement by the Intermediate People’s Court of Ningbo said Gui would not appeal at the end of the trial.

Gui, a Swedish national, ran Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong – an outlet known for selling gossipy titles about Chinese Communist Party officials. He was one of five booksellers who disappeared in 2015. The Monday court statement also said Gui “agreed to restore his Chinese citizenship” in 2018, a move which Beijing could use to deny him consular assistance from European diplomats.

Sweden’s foreign minister on Tuesday demanded that Chinese authorities release Gui. “We have always been clear that we demand that Gui Minhai be released so that he is able to reunite with his daughter, his family, and that demand remains,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde said in an interview on Swedish Radio.

“We, of course, demand immediate access to our Swedish citizen in order to give him all consular support that he is entitled to,” she said.

The Swedish foreign ministry said in a separate statement that its diplomats “did not have access to the trial. We were unable to review the indictment or offer access to legal counsel.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in Beijing on Tuesday that Gui’s rights and interests had been fully guaranteed. He said consular visits in general were put on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai ‘alive and well’, says Chinese envoy

The case against Gui was one of the most controversial brought by Chinese authorities in recent years. Gui went missing from Thailand and, along with four other booksellers, eventually reappeared in mainland China. In custody, he then told state television that he “turned himself in” in relation to a traffic accident in Ningbo, where he used to live, from 2003.

After serving terms for the traffic accident case, he was released in 2017, but kept under close surveillance in China. He was arrested again by Chinese authorities on a train going to Beijing, while he was in the company of Swedish diplomats.

Beijing’s draconian treatment of Gui drew a backlash from Sweden, as well as from the European Union.

Virginie Battu-Henriksson, the EU’s foreign affairs spokesperson, said the bloc “fully supports” Sweden’s efforts and would continue to raise Gui’s case with Beijing.

“There are serious questions to be answered about this case,” she said in a statement. “We expect the Chinese authorities to cooperate fully with their Swedish counterparts, in full transparency.”

Sweden honours detained bookseller Gui Minhai despite Chinese threats

In December, Sweden’s former ambassador to China Anna Lindstedt was indicted by Swedish prosecutors for exceeding her authority during negotiations with a foreign power. She was accused of setting up an unauthorised meeting between Angela Gui, the bookseller’s daughter, and Chinese businessmen in Stockholm in January 2019 in an attempt to negotiate his release.

Bei Ling, a long-time friend of Gui, said he did not believe his friend had received a fair trial in mainland China. He also said he suspected the “intelligence” Gui was accused of providing overseas was the detail of how he was kidnapped by Chinese agents in Thailand and brought to the mainland.

“What intelligence can he possibly have? He has been under surveillance by the Chinese government all the time and had his movements restricted,” Bei said. “The only intelligence is how he was abducted by Chinese agents from Thailand.”

Gui Minhai and extradition cases await Sweden’s new envoy to China

Bei urged the Swedish government to give a full account of how Gui was snatched from a Beijing-bound train in 2018, while accompanied by two Swedish diplomats.

Bei said he did not believe Gui would have his Chinese nationality restored after the ordeal he had been through on the mainland. “I believe he was asked to do so,” Bei said.

It remains unclear if Gui has given up his Swedish citizenship, although in 2018 he said he might consider doing so.

Under Chinese rules, anyone who wants to restore Chinese nationality must, among other requirements, submit a copy of their foreign passport and proof of prior Chinese nationality.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that Gui remained a Swedish citizen, and that the citizenship could be renounced only after an examination and a decision by the Swedish Migration Agency.

Gui’s publishing associate, Lam Wing-kee, earlier accused Chinese agents of kidnapping him while he was crossing the border to Shenzhen in 2015. He was detained and put through eight months of “mental torture”.

Lam was later allowed to return to Hong Kong, he said, because Chinese interrogators wanted him to bring back a hard disk containing more information about the bookstore’s mainland customers. He did not return to the mainland and has since moved to Taiwan to open up a bookshop.

Bookseller Lam Wing-kee heads to Taiwan fearful of mainland extradition

Lam said he was “a little surprised” that the mainland authorities had persisted with the case. “They arrested five people, all because of a certain book. This shows there could be further spillovers from this case,” he said.

“I believe they want to use the trial [of Gui] to warn others against doing anything which may be found unacceptable by the Chinese authorities. Also, they want to send out the message that they won’t let go of their control of Hong Kong, even during a critical time when they need to spend a great deal of time and effort in tackling the coronavirus outbreak.”

Lam said Gui may serve just four years in jail, since he had been effectively behind bars since 2015. “This could be the reason why he did not want to appeal against the court’s decision,” he said.

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