Thursday

2nd Apr 2020

EU critical of China on Swedish dissident publisher

The EU has joined Sweden in urging China to give consular access to a dissident book publisher, Gui Minhai, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Tuesday (25 February).

But, unlike Sweden, the EU did not call for his release and it issued its statement at the lowest level possible.

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"There are serious questions to be answered about this case. His rights, including inter alia to consular access and due process, have not been respected," the EU statement said.

Gui was a "Swedish national", it noted, and Chinese authorities ought to "cooperate fully with their Swedish counterparts, in full transparency", it added.

But the EU statement was weaker than Sweden's, which had urged China to set him free.

"We have always been clear that we demand that Gui Minhai is released in order to reunite with his daughter and family. That demand remains," Swedish foreign minister Ann Linde said earlier the same day.

"We have not had access to or knowledge of any trial. Thus, we have not been able to review the indictment, nor been able to offer access to legal counsel," she said.

And the EU attributed its statement to an EU foreign service "spokesperson" instead of to foreign relations chief Josep Borrell, in a protocol downgrade.

Gui was born in China, but moved to Sweden in 1988 and obtained Swedish nationality.

He later moved to Hong Kong and published government-critical books.

But China snatched him while he was on holiday in Thailand in 2015, forced him to renounce his Swedish nationality, and put him on trial for espionage.

It also threatened Sweden when Sweden awarded Gui a human rights prize in 2019.

China would take "counter-measures" against the decision, Gui Congyou, the Chinese ambassador in Stockholm, said at the time.

"We treat our friends with fine wine, but for our enemies we have shotguns," the Chinese ambassador also said.

For his part, German foreign minister Heiko Maas, who happened to be in Stockholm on Tuesday, joined the EU appeal.

"Germany continues to stand in solidarity with Sweden ... Consular access is now important," Maas said via Twitter.

But all that was too little pressure to do anything, the Chinese foreign ministry indicated the same day.

Gui was guilty of "unlawfully supplying intelligence for entities outside the territory of China", a foreign ministry spokesman told press in Beijing.

"China is a country ruled by law. Our judicial organ dealt with the case strictly in accordance with law, made such sentencing and has fully protected Gui Minhai's legitimate rights and interests," the spokesman said.

"China firmly opposes interference in our internal affairs and judicial sovereignty," they added.

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