China: Swedish journalists and publishers petition China for release of Gui Minhai

Swedish journalists, publishers and media jointly launched a petition on February 20, calling on China to release imprisoned Swedish writer and publisher Gui Minhai. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) supports its affiliate the Swedish Union of Journalists (SJF) in its calls to release Gui Minhai so he can return home.

Swedish Culture and Democracy Minister Amanda Lind presents the Swedish PEN's Tucholsky Prize given to Chinese-Swedish book publisher Gui Minhai in Stockholm, Sweden on November 15, 2019. Credit: FREDRIK SANDBERG / TT NEWS AGENCY / AFP

The petition collectively called on China’s President Xi Jinping to end a “campaign” of harassment against people who engaged in Gui Minhai’s case, drawing particular reference to China’s ambassador in Sweden, Gui Congyou, and outlined that “many Swedish journalists, editors, publishers, politicians, organisations, and researchers have since been victims of the embassy’s harassments”. The Swedish-led petition, led by the Swedish Writers Union, the Swedish publishers association and Swedish Pen, was followed by a national media campaign across the country’s leading newspapers and media outlets. See coverage here and here.

Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen and journalist was detained in China by plain clothes officers while travelling from Ningbo in the Zhejiang province to Beijing in January 2018. Gui Minhai was a Hong Kong based publisher and shareholder of Mighty Current media which owned the Causeway Bay bookstore in Hong Kong, known for selling sensitive political books that are considered banned in mainland China and the mysterious disappearance of five of their publishers. Gui Minhai was one of the publishers who went missing in 2015 while on holiday in Thailand. He later re-appeared in China in 2016 after allegedly turning himself over to authorities for an alleged traffic violation in 2003. In October 2017, Gui Minhai was given a “non-release release”, effectively meaning he is unable to leave China.

In November 2019, Swedish PEN awarded Gui Minhai the Tucholsky Prize, recognising his literary work. However, China’s Swedish ambassador, Gui Conguou responded by threatening Sweden PEN that it would “feel the consequences of its decision”. Minhai has a history of attacking and threatening Swedish media and journalists. In December 2019 he suggested that Sweden’s minister of culture would be denied entry into China for planning to hand out the Tucholsky Prize. Last month, Gui Congyou was also quoted as comparing Sweden’s media to a lightweight boxer who “provokes a fued” with a heavyweight.

The Open Letter to China’s President Xi Jinping said, “Sweden is a democracy, which means that Sweden has a freedom of expression. We defend this freedom by, for example, not allowing foreign diplomats to use insult or threat to silence anyone. Those who have signed this open letter want to help defend the democratic rights of our citizens”.

The letter went on to issue demands including an end to the threats and insults; that China respect the human rights of Gui Minhai; and allow for his release.

The IFJ said: “The continued imprisonment of Gui Minhai is a gross violation of his human rights. The IFJ calls on China’s authorities to release Gui Minhai, a Swedish national, and allow him a safe passage home.”

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