Ailing Swedish Bookseller Arrested Again in China

Gui Minhai

Gui appears on Chinese TV in 2016.

Just months after Hong Kong-based bookseller and Swedish citizen Gui Minhai was supposedly released after nearly two years of detention in mainland China, he is back in official custody after being seized by plainclothes police officers on a Beijing-bound train. Gui was traveling to the capital for a medical appointment because he has begun to exhibit symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is likely untreated now that he is again detained.

The bookseller is one of five men associated with the Hong Kong publisher Mighty Current who were originally detained in 2015. Gui was abducted from his vacation home in Thailand and taken into detention on the Chinese mainland along with four of his colleagues from the publisher, which specializes in political exposés on the Chinese Communist Party. The other men were all released over the following year, but Swedish citizen Gui remained in detention through late October 2017. In 2016 he appeared on state television and “confessed” to accidentally killing someone in a drunk driving incident 13 years earlier, but former fellow detainee Lam Wing Kee has publicly said the confessions he and three others gave were coerced and scripted.

The detention of the five men represented a grave breakdown in the “one country, two systems” model that China had observed in regards to Hong Kong since Great Britain ceded control of its former colony in 1997. A key point of the treaty officially known as the Sino-British Joint Declaration was that Hong Kongers would continue to enjoy freedom of speech and press.

In any case, Chinese authorities claimed that Gui had served a two-year sentence for that traffic offense and was free to go. In reality though, his daughter Angela Gui reports that he was barred from leaving China, although she was able to talk to him over Skype during his brief semi-liberation. That changed on Saturday, Jan. 20, when Gui boarded the train for Beijing accompanied by two Swedish diplomats. Despite the presence of those consular officials, Swedish citizen Gui was forcibly removed from the train by Chinese police. His whereabouts are once again unknown.

So far, the only offenses Gui is alleged to have committed this time are “sharing secret information with Swedish diplomats and…meeting them illegally.” Angela Gui, who is also a Swedish citizen but currently lives in the UK as a graduate student, retorts she cannot imagine what sort of secret information her father could have been privy to, nor how it could be illegal for him to meet with officials from his own country.

Since Gui’s re-arrest, calls for his release have been issued by the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the European Union’s ambassador to China, and the U.S. State Department. So far, Chinese authorities have refused to comment on the case.

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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.