Swedish bookseller held in China surfaces for video apology

Gui Minhai said that he wanted no help from the outside world.
Gui Minhai said that he wanted no help from the outside world.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (NYTIMES) - A Hong Kong-based bookseller with Swedish nationality, snatched from a train to Beijing by Chinese police last month for undisclosed reasons, resurfaced on Friday (Feb 9) to declare in a police-arranged interview that he wanted no help from the outside world.

The interview between the bookseller, Gui Minhai, and several Hong Kong and Chinese journalists was the latest twist in a case that has generated an international furore, opening a rift between China and Sweden.

The Chinese government has often rebuffed criticism of its detentions by parading detainees in televised confessions in which they often abjectly apologise, praise their treatment by the authorities, and tell foreign governments to stay away.

Gui gave one such confession after he was first secretly taken to China in 2015, and now he has appeared in a sequel at a detention centre in Ningbo. He told an online outlet for Oriental Daily, a Hong Kong newspaper, that Swedish diplomats had duped him into boarding the train to Beijing.

"They wanted to get me to Beijing quietly," he said of the diplomats.

Gui also said he had been taken off the train by the police "in accordance with the law", but did not say what law he might have violated.

"Now I'm very regretful about this whole affair," Gui said. "Because in fact the Swedish side didn't tell me specifically what would happen with my medical checkup in Beijing."

Gui also said he had written to the Swedish ambassador in Beijing, asking Sweden not to "hype" his case.

According to South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong newspaper, Gui said Swedish diplomats had visited him secretly in Ningbo before the train trip with "several proposals to get me to Sweden".

The Swedish government had no immediate comment on Gui's remarks. But his appearance immediately drew skepticism from human rights activists, who said it bore the hallmarks of a staged confession under duress.

Foreign Minister Margot Wallström of Sweden said on Monday (Feb 5) that taking him from the train had been a "brutal intervention" and "China's actions were in contravention of basic international rules on consular support".

Gui, whose business sells gossipy books critical of China's leaders, was secretly spirited from Thailand to China in 2015 and held for two years, amid diplomatic tensions over his rights.

He was formally freed last year but ordered to remain in China, where he lived in an apartment in the eastern city of Ningbo. He disappeared again in January, seized from a Beijing-bound train as two Swedish diplomats were accompanying him to the Swedish embassy in the Chinese capital for a medical examination.

Gui has shown symptoms of possible amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, a neurological disorder that degrades muscle actions.

Gui, 53, was born in eastern China, went to study in Sweden in 1988 and became a citizen of the country in 1992.

In recent years, he became a co-owner of Mighty Current Media, a small publishing house in Hong Kong that specialised in unflattering and salacious gossip about China's Communist Party leaders.

Gui appears unlikely to win his freedom soon.

The Hong Kong news report said he was suspected of illegally supplying Chinese state secrets to foreigners. The report gave no details of those purported secrets.

Gui's daughter, Angela Gui, who lives in Britain, has said she has no idea what secrets her father could have known.