Charged with espionage, the Hong Kong-based publisher was seized in Thailand in 2015. Under pressure, he gave up his Swedish citizenship. Communist China keeps cracking down on free voices. The sentence will likely spur Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A Chinese court yesterday sentenced Gui Minhai, a Hong Kong-based publisher and a Swedish national, to 10 years in prison for providing intelligence overseas. The Ningbo Intermediate Court (Zhejiang) also deprived Gui of his political rights for five years.
The publisher is not appealing the sentence, a decision his friends and people close to him believe that this is due to the fact that he has already served part of the sentence.
Gui was seized by Chinese agents in Thailand in 2015 along with four associates and taken to China, where he was tried and convicted in connection with a fatal hit-and-run accident in 2003.
The others were released. One of them, Lam Wing-kee, later said that he was seized again by Chinese police as he crossed the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, and that he was subjected to “psychological torture”. After his eventual release, Lam moved to Taiwan.
Meanwhile, Gui was released in 2017 after serving two years in prison, only to be re-arrested by Chinese police in January 2018 as he travelled to Beijing with two Swedish diplomats for a medical visit.
In an interview set up by China’s Ministry of Public Security shortly after his second arrest, the publisher accused the Swedish government of "sensationalising" his arrest in order to create a political case.
Many believe instead that he was forced to make the statement, as well as give up his Swedish nationality to regain Chinese citizenship. Beijing does not recognise dual citizenship, and such a move gives Chinese authorities the means to deny Gui consular assistance from Sweden.
Sweden and the European Union have repeatedly asked for his release, arguing that the charges against the publisher are baseless. Swedish authorities have also complained that they were unable to attend the trial.
Gui ended up in Beijing’s crosshairs for publishing and selling books that delve into the personal lives of some top members of the Communist Party.
By going after him, the Communist regime is showing again its willingness to use repression and intimidation to limit freedom of expression, especially when its ruling class is depicted in bad light.
Gui's also also sheds light on the ability of China’s security forces to carry out operations outside the territory of the People’s Republic, a fact that has boosted the determination of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement to protest against their rulers, seen closely aligned with Beijing.
In June of last year, an extradition bill was the spark that set off street protests in Hong Kong. For its opponents, if it ever became law, the bill would have allowed the Chinese government to try political dissidents and human rights lawyers from Hong Kong.