Two years after Swedish national Gui Minhai vanished in Thailand on October 17, 2015, his whereabouts remain a mystery. Last week the Chinese government—which allegedly abducted Gui outside its borders and has detained him in China—told Swedish diplomats that Gui has been “released” after serving his sentence for an alleged traffic offense. Yet the Swedish authorities have not seen him, nor has his family. Gui may indeed have been freed – but until he is accounted for he remains forcibly disappeared.
Days after Gui’s “release,” a man claiming to be Gui called the Swedish Consulate in Shanghai, saying he would get in touch with them later because he wished to be with his sick mother. But Gui’s daughter says her grandmother is not ill, nor has she seen him.
Gui Minhai is the last of the five booksellers from Hong Kong Mighty Current Media who were abducted and detained in 2015 still missing. One bookseller, Lam Wing-kee, revealed after his release that he was secretly detained and interrogated about the workings of the store, which sold books on the private lives of China’s top leaders.
The Chinese government has a history of lying about the condition of its political prisoners. It claims that Liu Xia, the wife of late Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, is free, when the available information indicates otherwise. Twenty years after it took into custody the 6-year-old Panchen Lama—Tibet’s second most important religious figure—Beijing insists that he is “living a normal life.” Yet nobody else has seen or heard from him.
Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallström, tweeted this week that she welcomed the news of Gui’s release. But until Swedish authorities can fully ascertain that Gui has been unconditionally released—that means a private visit—they should assume he remains disappeared and raise the matter directly with senior Chinese officials and in international forums.
This case has implications beyond one person’s freedom. The Chinese government has not only violated Gui Minhai’s fundamental human rights – it has done so across international borders. This should be a matter of grave concern not only for Sweden, but for all countries that care about the security of their citizens.