China’s embassy in Sweden on Saturday repeated comments made by its ambassador that the European nation could face “bad consequences” for honouring detained bookseller Gui Minhai with a free speech literary prize.
“Despite strong opposition by the Chinese side, [literary organisation] Svenska PEN insisted on issuing an award to Gui Minhai, and the Culture Minister of Sweden [Amanda Lind] attended the ceremony, which the Chinese side expresses strong discontent and strong opposition against,” the mission said in a statement.
The comments came amid growing calls from local politicians for Gui Congyou, China’s ambassador to Sweden, to be expelled from the country for his provocative remarks.
The envoy said on Friday that granting the award would harm relations between the two countries and that Lind would not be welcome in China if she attended the award ceremony.
“As we have solemnly pointed out, Gui Minhai is a criminal that committed serious crimes in both China and Sweden,” the embassy said.
“Giving an award to such a criminal is an outright political farce … As a Chinese saying goes, good deeds will be rewarded with good results, whereas wrong deeds will only meet bad consequences.
“The serious mistake by the Swedish side undoubtedly creates serious difficulties to normal friendly exchanges and cooperation between China and Sweden.”
Gui Minhai, 55, is currently being detained at an undisclosed location in China. Beijing has said he is being held for his involvement in a fatal drink-driving accident. Sweden has repeatedly called for his release.
Once known for selling books on subjects Beijing deems politically sensitive, Gui disappeared in Thailand in 2015, before being briefly released in late 2017. He was then rearrested in early 2018.
Ambassador Gui, who has served in Sweden since August 2017, has been a vocal critic of his host nation’s media coverage of China. According to a report by the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, co-authored by Bjorn Jerden, head of its Asia programme, between January 2018 and May of this year, the Chinese embassy issued 57 statements critical of local press coverage of China.
Jerden said the ambassador’s comments had taken the war of words to new heights. “China chose to portray this as an escalation from the Swedish side, hence the rationale for the threat,” he said.
“Even against the background of the propaganda campaign of the past two years, this is a new development. It’s the strongest language we’ve seen so far. [But] I can’t imagine that it will affect how Swedish civil society engages with the Gui Minhai case.”
The embassy’s comments reignited calls from Swedish politicians for Gui Congyou to be expelled from the country.
On Saturday, Hakan Svenneling, spokesman for the Left Party, said on Twitter that the ambassador should “be declared persona non grata … after he has threatened the Swedish government to silence”.
However, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde said that expelling Gui would not be “a good way” to resolve the dispute.
Nonetheless, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said on Friday that the country would not back down on the issue.
“We are not going to give in to this type of threat. Never,” he said. “We have freedom of expression in Sweden and that’s how it is. Period.”
The Swedish branch of PEN International, a group that supports freedom of expression and advocates the protection of writers that face political repression, awarded its Tucholsky Prize to Gui Minhai. During the ceremony on Friday evening in Stockholm, an empty chair was placed on stage in his absence, the organisation said.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
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