International concerns about the safety and whereabouts of a Hong Kong publisher Gui Minhai, who was seized by Chinese authorities in Thailand two years ago, is growing after China claimed he was released last Tuesday.
More than a week has passed, and Gui has not contacted any of his family or friends, despite Beijing’s claim that he’s “free to travel,” according to his daughter, Angela Gui.
On Wednesday, she told a Hong Kong radio station that if her father is not free to travel within China or abroad or contact people, then he is neither released nor free.
“The fact we don’t know where he is and the fact that we haven’t heard anything from him, actually means that he’s been disappeared again. And this is something that I think is very serious,” Angela Gui told Hong Kong’s RTHK radio.
Release coincides with congress
Gui’s alleged release coincided with the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade national congress. During the high-level political meetings and leadership reshuffle, China went to great lengths to control commentary online. Authorities also detained dozens of dissidents and activists, putting them under tighter monitoring or sending them out of the capital on “vacation.”
Still under informal custody?
Rights activists called on the Chinese government to prove — not just claim — that Gui is truly free while many speculated pessimistically that he would remain under informal custody until Chinese authorities no longer see him as a threat.
China will only “gradually ease its monitor on him [Gui] if he stays low-key, keeps his mouth shut and shys away from media or other dissidents. Only when attention toward his case is watered down will he be set free completely,” said Chinese rights lawyer Chen Guangwu.
Peter Dahlin, a Swedish activist who used to work with rights lawyers in China, said via Twitter Tuesday that Gui is likely “a straightforward case of Chinese nonrelease release. ‘Free’ in a guesthouse somewhere under 24/7 watch.”
Dahlin is personally familiar with China’s methods and practices. Right around the time that Gui ran into trouble, he was detained on charges of damaging national security. Held for 23 days and interrogated, Dahlin was later released and deported, but only after authorities released a video-taped “confession” on national television.
In late 2015, Gui, a Swedish passport holder, was one of five Hong Kong booksellers who disappeared.
He first disappeared from his vacation home in Thailand and then reappeared in early 2016 in an apparent staged confession on Chinese state media.
He was later jailed for his alleged involvement in a 2003 hit-and-run case, which lawyer Chen argued was just an excuse for Beijing to put Gui behind bars as China hadn’t introduced any drunken driving regulation back then.
The real reason behind Gui’s incarceration, Chen argued, was that many of his publications have embarrassed top leaders with details of their private lives, which is seen as a political taboo in China that could potentially endanger the country’s political stability.
Upon his release last June, Gui’s colleague Lam Wing Kee said that during questioning his interrogators had a slip of the tongue and revealed their identity.
“He told me: We’re members of the central special task force. You booksellers have sent books by post to our domain in China, which slander our national leaders and endanger our national security. We have our eyes on you,” Lam said in an earlier interview with Taiwan’s Public Television Service.
Katrina Byrenius Rosland, the Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told VOA late Wednesday that her ministry is still working to get details of Gui’s whereabouts and well-being while seeking clarifications from their Chinese counterparts.
According to Gui’s daughter, the Swedish Consulate General in Shanghai received a phone call Monday from someone who claimed to be Gui and said that he wanted to visit his “ill mother.”
“To my knowledge, my grandmother isn’t ill. My father is not in fact with her. It is still very unclear where he is. I’m deeply concerned for his well-being,” Angela Gui said in a statement posted on her Twitter account earlier this week.
William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International, said the way China handled the controversial arrests of several Hong Kong booksellers, including Gui, has shocked both the public in Hong Kong and the international community with its attempts to arbitrarily detain citizens, even foreign passport holders outside of China.
“Saying that he’s released, but he wants to go visit his old mother. … All these sorts of pretenses isn’t gonna give any further confidence that China’s legal system is just and that China is actually a rule-of-law country. And I think that’s one thing that Hong Kong people are very concerned about,” Nee told VOA.
The bookseller controversy will remain a constant reminder to the former British colony that China’s promises of a self-ruled Hong Kong are nothing but lip service, said Wu Chi Wai, chairman of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party.
“What the mainland government has done will put up a lot of frustration to the people of Hong Kong that ... in terms of the implementation of ‘one country two systems,’ they [China] tried to find room not to honor the way we think how the ‘one country, two systems’ should be honored,” Wu said.