Missing Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai ‘released’, but family cannot find him
Confusion surrounds claim that seller of banned books who disappeared in 2015 has been freed, after family says no one has heard from him
Confusion erupted over the fate of missing Hong Kong-based bookseller Gui Minhai following his “release” from custody in mainland China last week, two years after he disappeared while on holiday in Thailand.
Gui’s daughter, Angela, said he was not necessarily free, as he had neither been seen nor heard from since his release last Tuesday and might have “disappeared again”.
The foreign ministry in Beijing confirmed on Tuesday that Gui, co-founder of Mighty Current publishing house, which specialised in political gossip about the Chinese leadership, was released a day before the Communist Party party began its twice-a-decade congress.
“From our understanding, Gui Minhai has already completely served the sentence imposed for a traffic offence, and was released on October 17,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
That traffic offence refers to Gui’s earlier confession on state television that he had surrendered to mainland Chinese authorities for a drink-driving death he caused in 2003.
The statement made no mention of the earlier accusation that Gui had run an “illegal business” since October 2014 to deliver across the border about 4,000 books banned on the mainland to 380 customers.
The controversy began in October 2015 with Gui, a mainland-born, naturalised Swedish citizen, vanishing first from Pattaya, Thailand. He was said to have been kidnapped by Chinese agents.
His publishing associates, Lam Wing-kee, Cheung Chi-ping and Lui Por, went missing while on the mainland. Another associate, Lee Po, disappeared under similar circumstances from Hong Kong.
All five eventually surfaced on the mainland, appearing on state media to claim they had gone there voluntarily.
“According to reports we have received from the Chinese authorities, Gui Minhai has been released in China. We are working to get more information about this. We are in close contact with Gui Minhai’s family,”Sweden’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
But Gui’s daughter said: “I still do not know where my father is. Upon receiving the news of his release being imminent, the embassy sent senior officials to the place my father is said to have been held and where consular officers visited him on three occasions.”
According to her, a mainland official told the Swedish officials who went over to meet Gui that the bookseller had already been released at midnight.
“They were also told that he was ‘free to travel’ and that they had no idea where he was,” she said.
On Monday, she said, the Swedish consulate in Shanghai received a “strange” phone call from someone claiming to be her father. The person on the phone said he wanted to apply for a Swedish passport one or two months later but, for now, he wanted to spend some time with his mother.
“To my knowledge, my grandmother is not ill. My father is not, in fact, with her. It is still very unclear where he is. I am deeply concerned for his well being,” she said.
Woo Chih-wai, who worked at the Causeway Bay bookstore under Mighty Current until five of his associates disappeared in 2015, said he believed Gui was released due to international pressure.
But Woo doubted if Gui could leave mainland China just yet. If authorities had charged Gui for running an “illegal business”, he would not be allowed to leave the mainland for now, Woo said.
One of the previously missing booksellers, Lam, claimed in dramatic detail upon returning to Hong Kong in June last year that he was kidnapped at the border and put through eight months of mental torture.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, who helped Lam at the time, said:“If, according to what the Chinese government says, Mr Gui should have been released on Oct 17, the Chinese government would be pleased to ensure that Mr Gui is seen by the whole world, that he is free.
“My feeling is the Chinese government or some of the leaders do not want Mr Gui to actually be free. That is why the fiasco happened.”