London, February 25, 2020 – The conviction and sentencing of Swedish-Chinese publisher Gui Minhai to 10 years in prison on charges of ‘providing intelligence’ abroad appears to be in retaliation for his work as a publisher and in response to international calls for his freedom, said PEN International today, as it called on the Chinese authorities to quash his conviction and release him immediately and unconditionally.
‘This is devastating news for the entire PEN community. We stand firm in our assertion that Gui Minhai is being targeted simply for his work as a publisher. This is clearly a punitive move against Gui Minhai because of the global attention his case has attracted over the last four years. Our message to the Chinese authorities is simple: we will continue to campaign for Gui Minhai’s freedom and freedom of expression in China,’ said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International.
In a trial shrouded in secrecy, a court in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, confirmed that Gui Minhai had plead guilty to charges of ‘providing intelligence’ abroad and was sentenced to 10 years in prison as well as five years suspension of his political rights thereafter. He is not expected to appeal. In light of his past persecution and coerced statements, it appears very likely that the conviction is politically-motivated.
The conviction comes on the back of increased calls for his freedom from the international community. On November 15, 2019, Swedish PEN bestowed its Tucholsky award – given to a writer or publisher who faces persecution or has been forced into exile – upon Gui Minhai in recognition of his work as a publisher in Hong Kong and the persecution that he has faced as a result. The decision was met with condemnation from the Chinese authorities and veiled threats from the Chinese Embassy to Sweden.
A Chinese-born Swedish citizen, Gui Minhai is a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, (ICPC), and a co-founder of Mighty Current, a publishing house based in Hong Kong which prints books often critical of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Gui Minhai moved to Sweden as a student and where he subsequently claimed citizenship. In doing so, Gui Minhai effectively forfeited his Chinese citizenship, as China does not recognise dual nationality. The court in Ningbo also indicated that Gui Minhai had applied to restore his Chinese citizenship in 2018.
“The claim that Gui Minhai has applied for Chinese citizenship and thereby in practice forfeited his Swedish citizenship is preposterous. This statement must be regarded as pure propaganda,” said Jesper Bengtsson, Chairperson of Swedish PEN. “Every organisation that has freedom of expression on its agenda is engaged in the case of Gui Minhai, and they, like us, will continue along this line. In the wake of this verdict, it is positive that the Swedish government has not changed its position on the case. Gui Minhai must be released.”
In October 2015 Gui Minhai was one of five individuals associated with Mighty Current and its retail arm, Causeway Bay Book Store, to have disappeared, only to re-appear in the custody of the Chinese authorities three months later.
Gui Minhai was held incommunicado for months before appearing in a televised ‘confession’ widely believed to have been coerced, in which he claimed that he had voluntarily surrendered himself to the Chinese authorities over his supposed involvement in a fatal hit-and-run incident which took place a decade earlier.
Two years after his disappearance, in October 2017, Gui Minhai was released on condition that he did not leave the country and was required to report regularly to the police. Although there is no indication that he was ever convicted of a crime, he was reportedly released as he was considered to have served his sentence for the alleged traffic incident.
On January 20, 2018, Gui Minhai was re-arrested while travelling by train to Beijing in the company of two Swedish diplomats. Gui Minhai was due to undergo a medical assessment at the Swedish embassy as he has exhibited symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – a degenerative disease affecting the brain and spinal cord. In February 2018, Gui Minhai appeared in a video in which he confessed to ‘wrongdoing’ and accused Sweden of manipulating him. The statement is thought to have been made under duress.