Sweden urges China to release dissident bookseller as anger mounts

Stockholm on Tuesday called on Beijing to release dissident publisher Gui Minhai after the Swedish citizen was snatched for a second time in mainland China while being accompanied by Swedish diplomats.

“We expect our citizen to be released immediately and be given the opportunity to meet Swedish diplomatic and medical personnel,” Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said in a statement.

One of five Hong Kong-based booksellers known for salacious titles about the lives of China’s political elite, 53-year-old Gui first went missing in 2015 while on vacation in Thailand and resurfaced at an undisclosed location in China.

Chinese authorities said they had released Gui in October, but it was unclear to what extent he was a free man after serving a jail sentence over “a traffic incident”.

His daughter Angela Gui told Radio Sweden that he had then been snatched by plain clothes police on Saturday while on a train to Beijing from the eastern city of Ningbo, where he was living, while accompanied by two Swedish diplomats.

Police walk past missing person posters of Gui Minhai (left) and Yau Wentian during a 2016 rally outside China’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong

Gui senior had been travelling to Beijing to see a Swedish doctor as he was showing symptoms of the neurological disease ALS — also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — Angela added.

“At one of the stops before Beijing there were about 10 men in plain clothes that came in and said they were from the police and just grabbed him and just took him away and after that I have not heard anything,” she told Radio Sweden.

– ‘Strong action’-

Wallstrom, who summoned China’s ambassador to Stockholm twice within three days, confirmed that Gui was “arrested by Chinese authorities” in the presence of diplomatic staff who were “assisting a Swedish citizen in need of medical care”.

This photo from January 3, 2016 shows protesters holding up missing person notices of (L-R) Lui Bo and colleagues Cheung Jiping, Gui Minhai, Lee Bo and Lam Wing-kei in Hong Kong

She added that international rules give the diplomatic staff the right to provide a Swedish citizen with consular support and raised alarm over his detention, which took place “without further explanation”.

In February 2016 after his first disappearance, Gui appeared on Chinese television, weeping as he confessed to involvement in a fatal car accident years before.

In another interview the same year, he also admitted trying to smuggle illegal books into China.

Saturday’s incident triggered outrage among human rights groups.

Amnesty International described the incident as “absolutely appalling” and called for Gui to be released and allowed to seek medical treatment.

The fact that he had been snatched in front of diplomats should be a “wake up call” to the international community, said Amnesty’s China researcher William Nee.

Since taking power in 2012 President Xi Jinping has come under increasing pressure on rights issues, following widespread arrests of lawyers and activists.

Literary society and activist group PEN Hong Kong expressed “highest concern” over Gui’s latest disappearance.

Placards showing missing bookseller Lee Bo (L) and his associate Gui Minhai (R) are seen left by members of the Civic party outside the China liaison office in Hong Kong on January 19, 2016

“It is now important for foreign governments, particularly the Swedes and the European Union, to respond with strong actions,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement to AFP.

China was widely criticised after veteran Chinese rights activist and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo died from liver cancer while on medical parole on the mainland in December last year.

Rights groups had pushed for him to be allowed to seek medical treatment abroad.

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