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China Sentences Hong Kong Bookseller To 10 Years In Jail


A well-known publisher of political texts in China has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for illegally passing intelligence to unspecified people overseas. It's a complicated story, and NPR's Emily Feng brought it to us.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: The first time Gui Minhai disappeared, he was on vacation in Thailand in 2015. Chinese security agents had kidnapped him and spirited him to China. Shortly after, Gui appeared in this segment on Chinese state television.


GUI MINHAI: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: Gui is a Swedish citizen and left mainland China for Europe after the Tiananmen massacre in 1989. But in this television report, Gui said he'd voluntarily returned to China to face manslaughter charges in a fatal 2003 traffic accident. Many of those close to Gui said his statement had been coerced.

LAM WING KEE: (Through interpreter) You can't imagine the pressure China can put on you. I still have occasional nightmares. Sometimes I wake up screaming in my sleep.

FENG: That's Lam Wing Kee. He and Gui were Hong Kong-based publishers of scathing, sometimes salacious books about Chinese leaders. Around the same time that Gui was kidnapped in Thailand, Lam was stopped at the border of Hong Kong and mainland China, blindfolded and sent by train to China, where he endured eight months of interrogation.

LAM: (Through interpreter) They terrorize you. They can accuse you of violating national security, any crime they can stick to you. They can make you disappear.

FENG: Lam was allowed to return to Hong Kong by promising to give his captors the names of his bookstore's authors and customers. Instead, he went public with his kidnapping. Gui wasn't so lucky. Sometime before 2018, he was released from custody but remained under house arrest in the Chinese city of Ningbo, where he was born.

Still, he managed to sneak out an entire volume of his new poetry to his daughter Angela, also Swedish, to be published this year. Then Gui disappeared again in January 2018. While on a train to Beijing, accompanied by two Swedish diplomats, Gui was taken away by Chinese security officers and hasn't been seen since.

MAGNUS FISKESJO: It was about the Chinese government going to Hong Kong to shut down a bookstore. And then he was, you know, part of the damage.

FENG: Magnus Fiskesjo is an anthropology professor at Cornell University. He met Gui while serving in Sweden's Beijing Embassy during the free-spirited 1980s. Fiskesjo says China is much less open now, especially towards Sweden. Chinese diplomats have threatened to block Swedish exports and government officials from China because of the country's support for Gui.

FISKESJO: The Chinese Embassy has been lashing out and attacking, verbally, Swedish media, newspapers, television - anyone who has said anything critical about China or asked for our citizen to be free.

FENG: For years, Swedish diplomats have also been denied consular access to Gui, who was just secretly sentenced in a closed courtroom. In a brief judgment published online Monday, the Chinese court said Gui had renounced his Swedish citizenship in 2018.

FISKESJO: That means Chinese government doesn't give a damn about these rules.

FENG: At a recent rally, Fiskesjo read aloud one of his earlier poems, written in 1986, about Gui's longing to visit Greece. The poem ends with a lamentation and these words - the passion quieted, the smiling face of the tortured emerges. Fiskesjo wasn't sure what the line meant when he first read it; now he thinks of Gui Minhai.

Emily Feng, NPR News, Beijing.


Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.