A Swedish publisher believed to have been abducted by Chinese agents after riling Beijing with his books about the peccadilloes of the Communist party’s elite has allegedly been snatched for a second time while travelling to Beijing by train with a group of European diplomats.
Supporters and relatives of Gui Minhai, a Hong Kong-based bookseller who mysteriously vanished from his Thai holiday home in October 2015, had hoped he was on the verge of freedom after reports that he was “half free” and living under surveillance in the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo.
However, those hopes were dashed on Monday by claims that he had again vanished, this time while taking a train to Beijing for medical treatment with two Swedish diplomats.
Angela Gui, the bookseller’s UK-based daughter, told the Guardian she was “very saddened” by the latest twist in her father’s story. “This was precisely what wasn’t supposed to happen,” she said.
Gui, 53, is understood to have been travelling to Beijing on Saturday to be examined at the Swedish embassy because of concerns that he might have a rare neurological disease. As the publisher’s train stopped at a station not far from the Chinese capital, his daughter said, about 10 plainclothes agents boarded and escorted him away. “I haven’t heard anything [about where he is now],” she added.
John Kamm, an American human rights campaigner who has been working with the bookseller’s family, told the New York Times: “Gui Minhai is exhibiting symptoms of a serious neurological condition, symptoms that did not exist before he was taken into custody in October 2015.”
Referring to the death in Chinese custody last year of the Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, Kamm added: “I pray we will not witness the death in prison of another person accused of political crimes.”
Angela Gui told the Guardian: “I would like my father to be immediately released so he can return to Sweden and receive the medical care he urgently needs.”
Gui’s original disappearance – and that of four other Hong Kong booksellers, including one British citizen – was widely seen as part of a broader crackdown on Communist party foes that has unfolded since Xi Jinping became China’s leader in November 2012. Xi, who was recently anointed as China’s most powerful leader since Mao, has overseen what activists and diplomats describe as the most severe political chill since the days following the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.
However, more than two years after the booksellers were first targeted, the forces driving the saga remain shrouded in mystery. In June 2016 another of the abducted men, Lam Wing-kee, claimed he had been kidnapped by Chinese special forces as part of a coordinated push to silence Beijing’s critics. “They blindfolded me and put a cap on my head and basically bundled me up,” Lam told reporters.
Patric Nilsson, a spokesman for Sweden’s foreign ministry, told Radio Sweden that Stockholm was taking “vigorous action” at the highest political level in response to Gui’s detention. “This event will be handled with the utmost seriousness,” Nilsson vowed.
Human rights activists urged Beijing to free the bookseller.
Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch’s China director, said: “This is a shocking development, for Chinese police to do this to a foreign citizen, in the company of his country’s diplomats, and when Chinese authorities have themselves said he is ‘free’.”
“It tells us that if Chinese authorities want to silence you, they will, regardless of your citizenship [or] regardless of whether you have violated any discernible law.”
Amnesty International’s William Nee tweeted that Gui should be released immediately.
By Tom Phillips