Last October Gui
Minhai, the publisher at Mighty Current was sitting at his beachside apartment
in Thailand. Then he was gone. In a matter of weeks, four more Chinese, Hong
Kong publishers also disappeared.
It’s believed they were captured by Chinese agents because their books were critical of the seniors members of the Chinese Communist Party.
In a surprise turn, one of the five publishers, Lam Wing-kee was released last week. He told reporters in Hong Kong how he was blindfolded, put on a train, interrogated and held in a small room for months.
But Mr. Lam was only released on the promise he would return to the Chinese mainland with a database of customers who had bought books from his store, Causeway Bay Books.
The facts surrounding the disappearance of Gui, a Swedish citizen, are still unknown.
Ric Wasserman brings us the latest chapter in the story from Stockholm. With additional reporting from Kannikar Petchkeaw in Thailand.
Angela Minhai gave witness to the United States congressional committee about her fears that her father was kidnapped from his home in Pattaya, Thailand, nine months ago.
“In the so called confession, my father’s apparent confession, he says he travelled to China voluntarily. If this is true we can wonder why there is no record of him having left Thailand. Only a state agency acting coercively could achieve such a disappearance,” says Angela Minhai.
Gui is a Swedish citizen.
“My father called me. I still haven’t been told where he is, how he is being treated, or what his legal status is, which is especially shocking in the light of the fact that my father holds Swedish, and only Swedish, citizenship,” said Angela Minhai.
His medicine and clothes remained behind. Gui called his daughter from China and told her to keep quiet about the case.
And then he turned up in China, on Chinese state TV, confessing to being involved in a hit-and-run accident 10 years ago.
His daughter is convinced the whole thing is staged.
The Swedish foreign department has made little progress – given the cold shoulder by Chinese authorities, says Anna Ekberg, Sweden’s Foreign Department press deputy.
“We continue to ask for clarification on this case and on the man’s condition… and we continue to ask to visit him,” Ekberg stated.
Febraury 24th was the last time Swedish authorities were permitted to visit Gui Minhai. Sweden is China’s biggest trading partner in Scandinavia.
Quiet diplomacy is what the Swedes call their approach.
“We have on several occasions met with Chinese authorities, Thai authorities and HK authorities on the matter. First of all we’d like a second meeting with our Swedish citizen,” Ekberg explained.
The Swedish government is aware of the other Chinese publishers who’ve gone missing and say they are waiting for a report from the countries involved.
Causeway Bay Books, where Gui and the other missing booksellers worked is known for its racy stories on the Chinese political elite.
The company had recently printed 100,000 copies of a book on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s love life.
In Thailand, where Gui Minhai was apparently abducted by the Chinese, a military government is in place – making it almost impossible to get information, says long-time human rights defender, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet.
“In Thailand we don’t have the proper mechanism for making a complaint. That’s why we don’t hear very much when people are abducted,” Khongkachonkiet explains.
Amnesty International has been working to shed light on the Gui Minhai’s case since his disappearance. Before him, Li Bo disappeared, sparking protests in Hong Kong, says Amnesty spokesman in Hong Kong, William Nee.
Li holds a British passport.
“There have been several protests but the main one was after Li Bo went missing. And this was very shocking to people in Hong Kong,” Nee says.
This was also unprecedented.
“Essentially a HK citizen was taken away, it’s still not clear if by mainland authorities or authorities working with mainland authorities – taken away back to the mainland. This really shocked people,” Nee stated.
The apparent abductions clearly undermine Hong Kong’s legal independence.
There are some strange twists to the story. Like Gui Minhai, Li Bo has also said, though in a letter to his wife, that he willingly went to the mainland.
But he left his Hong Kong return permit behind, which suggests he was abducted, and is under duress.
First Gui Minhai, then Li Bo, then the disappearance of three others, all tied together with a common thread – freedom of speech.
Meanwhile, the Chinese government seems to have succeeded in its goal – to strangle the press.
I ask William Nee about Gui Minhai and Li Bo’s Causeway bookshop in Hong Kong.
“Well, it’s open but they’re not selling the books they were selling before. Most of the political books.”