On 15 November, to mark the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, PEN is highlighting the case of publisher Gui Minhai, who disappeared from his holiday home in Thailand in October 2015. Gui is a Chinese-born Swedish citizen and a former board member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre, composed of leading dissident writers living in and outside China. There was no word from him until three months later, when he appeared in a televised ‘confession’ broadcast in China. Gui claimed that he had voluntarily surrendered himself to the Chinese authorities over his supposed involvement in a fatal hit-and-run incident that took place in December 2003.
Gui is cofounder of Mighty Current, a publishing house based in Hong Kong that prints books that are often critical of the Chinese Communist Party. PEN and other lobby groups believe that the real reason for his detention is his work as a publisher and his role in distributing banned books in mainland China. Shortly after Gui’s disappearance, four other employees of Mighty Current and its retail arm, Causeway Bay Books, were detained. The manager of Causeway Bay Books, Lam Wing Kee, and two other employees, Lui Bo and Cheung Jiping, disappeared while travelling in mainland China in October 2015. Lee Bo, an editor at the publishing house, disappeared from Hong Kong on 30 December 2015.
In February this year, Lam, Lui and Cheung each appeared in televised interviews in which they confessed to the ‘illegal trading’ of banned books and declared that they had come to the mainland voluntarily. In March, following international outcry and protests in Hong Kong, the three, as well as Lee, were released and returned to Hong Kong. Lam later claimed that his confession was made under duress: ‘It was a show, and I accepted it. They gave me the script. I had to follow the script. If I did not follow it strictly, they would ask for a retake.’ Unlike his colleagues, Lam had no family members in mainland China who could be intimidated by the authorities and he decided to speak out: ‘If I myself, being the least vulnerable among the five booksellers, remained silent, Hong Kong would become hopeless.’ He maintains that during his detention ‘the main thrust of the questioning was to figure out my relationship with Causeway Bay Books and Mighty Current Publishing’.
Gui’s precise whereabouts and the charges against him remain unknown. His daughter, Angela, currently studying in the United Kingdom, has written the following about her father’s detention:
In its treatment of my father, the Chinese government is not only breaking its own laws, but also international law … In the end, this is not about my father as an individual … This is about China actively extending its control far beyond its own borders. This is about China kidnapping and illegally detaining more and more people because of their political beliefs. It’s about European citizens no longer being able to know that their human rights will be protected … In what has been called ‘the darkest moment’ for human rights in China in recent years, we have to make sure that people like my father are not forgotten. Because to stay silent over what happened to him is to guarantee that it will happen again.
In another statement she called on the UK to ‘make every effort to make sure that the principle of One Country, Two Systems, is being honoured’.
According to PEN, free expression is increasingly being suppressed in Hong Kong. The detention of Gui Minhai and other employees of Mighty Current and Causeway Bay Books is part of a wider crackdown on publishers, booksellers, writers and journalists in Hong Kong. PEN considers Gui to be a victim of enforced disappearance and to be detained in violation of Articles 9 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory.
Readers might like to send appeals calling for the immediate and unconditional release of publisher Gui Minhai, held for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression; voicing serious concern about the safety of writers, academics, lawyers and activists in China, who are at risk of attack and imprisonment solely for the peaceful expression of their opinions; calling on the Chinese authorities to end their practice of enforced disappearance and forced confession; and reminding the Chinese government that as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides for freedom of legitimate expression, the right not to be arbitrarily detained and the right to a fair trial, it is obliged to ‘refrain from acts that would defeat or undermine the treaty’s objective and purpose’.
Appeals to be addressed to:
His Excellency Liu Xiaoming
Embassy of China
49 Portland Place
London W1B 1JL
Fax: 020 7636 2981
His Excellency Xi Jinping
President of the People’s Republic of China
People’s Republic of China
Fax: +86 10 6307 0900
Updates: In September 2016, an appeals court upheld the prison sentence handed down to Iranian journalist Narges Mohammadi (LR, June 2012 & March 2016) by a revolutionary court in Tehran in May. Mohammadi had been sentenced to five years in prison for ‘gathering and colluding with intent to harm national security’, one year in prison for ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ and ten years in prison for ‘founding and running an illegal organisation’ that campaigned against the death penalty. Mohammadi is already serving a six-year prison sentence for similar ‘offences’. PEN continues to call for her immediate and unconditional release.
On 13 October Margaret Atwood, the 2016 PEN Pinter Prize recipient, chose Bangladeshi publisher, writer and activist Tutul (LR, May 2016) as the winner of this year’s International Writer of Courage Award.