China has sentenced Swedish book publisher Gui Minhai to 10 years in prison on charges of illegally providing intelligence abroad and claimed him as a citizen, prompting Stockholm to call for his release in a case that has rattled diplomatic relations.
Gui, one of five Hong Kong-based booksellers known for publishing salacious titles about Chinese political leaders, was snatched by Chinese authorities while on a train to Beijing in February 2018, the second time he disappeared into Chinese custody.
Since China does not recognise dual citizenship, “China, according to law, only recognizes him as a Chinese citizen,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Tuesday.
Gui first vanished in 2015 while on holiday in Thailand and eventually surfaced at an undisclosed location in China, confessing to involvement in a fatal traffic accident and smuggling illegal books.
He served two years in prison but three months after his October 2017 release, he was again arrested while on a train to Beijing while travelling with Swedish diplomats.
Zhao said Gui’s alleged crime “seriously damages China’s national security and interests.”
“China resolutely opposes any country, any organization, and anyone’s using any form to interfere in China’s internal affairs and judicial sovereignty,” he said.
A video released by China three weeks after Gui’s disappearance showed him purportedly confessing wrongdoing and blaming Sweden for “sensationalising” his case and “instigating” law-breaking behaviour.
Gui’s friend, dissident poet Bei Ling, said at the time that Gui’s confession was likely made under coercion.
Chinese criminal suspects often appear in videotaped “confessions” that rights groups say sometimes bear the hallmarks of official arm-twisting.
The Ningbo court’s decision to highlight Gui’s citizenship was “obviously politically motivated” and intended to “stop the Swedish government from offering any support to Gui Minhai,” Amnesty International researcher Patrick Poon told AFP.
Gui’s detention has put a strain on relations between Sweden and China in recent years, with Stockholm repeatedly calling for his release.
Sweden’s former envoy to China Anna Lindstedt is being investigated for allegedly overstepping her duties and arranging an unauthorised meeting with Chinese businessmen and Gui’s daughter to get Gui freed.
He reportedly once worked in China’s foreign affairs ministry in Hainan province — although this has been denied by Beijing.