IPA Condemns China’s New 10-Year Sentence for Prix Voltaire Laureate Gui Minhai

In News by Porter Anderson

Characterizing publisher Gui Minhai’s treatment by Beijing as ‘meant to scare others into silence,’ the IPA asks for new action from Sweden, the EU, and international community on the jailed publisher’s behalf.

Image – iStockphoto: Rattankun Thongbun

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Gui Convicted of ‘Illegally Providing Intelligence’
In a statement issued from its Geneva headquarters today, the International Publishers Association  (IPA) condemns China’s newly reported sentencing of Swedish publisher Gui Minhai.

As reported by Anna Fifield at the Washington Post this morning, Gui has been sentenced by a Chinese court for “illegally providing intelligence” to overseas parties. The action of the Ningbo Intermediate People’s Court was announced today (February 25), though the judgment was taken on Monday.

At CNN, Ben Westcott, Steven Jiang, and Eric Cheung today report that Gui, 55, pleaded guilty to the charge, according to a statement made online by the court.

NPR’s Emily Feng notes in her report that, “Sweden has been outspoken about Gui’s double detentions, causing a sharp rift between Beijing and Stockholm.

Gui Minhai

“When Sweden’s minister of culture, Amanda Lind, attended a literary prize-giving ceremony in honor of Gui last year,” Feng writes, “China’s ambassador to Sweden threatened to ban Lind from entering China. China’s foreign ministry warned of unspecific countermeasures. Soon after, China canceled a trade visit to Sweden.”

BBC News reports, “Sweden’s foreign minister on Tuesday called for Mr. Gui’s release, referring to him as a ‘citizen.’ We have not had access to the trial,” said Ann Linde in a tweet. “[We] demand that Gui be released and that we have access to our citizens to provide consular support.”

The German Foreign Office issued a tweet on the situation, saying that “consular access is now important.”

Update: March 1

It’s worth pointing out an extraordinary outpouring of objection to the reported imprisonment of Gui Minhai in social media. In response to one of our “From the Week” tweets about this story, here, you can see a long series of concerned and angry responses from the region with–as of this update–some 1,200 Twitter accounts engaged:

IPA: ‘A High Price for Publishing Books’

Kristenn Einarsson, the IPA’s Freedom to Publish committee chair, has issued the statement for the association, which comprises 83 publishers’ associations from 69 nations. It’s the Freedom to Publish committee under Einarsson’s direction, that annually awards the IPA’s Prix Voltaire for valor in the face of oppression of the freedom to publish.

Kristenn Einarsson

“IPA expresses its steadfast support for Gui Minhai and his family,” Einarsson says in his statement for the IPA, “and calls on Sweden, the European Union, and the international community to renew their efforts to secure Gui Minhai’s release.

“Gui Minhai has paid a high price for publishing books, and his treatment is meant to scare others into silence.

“We salute all those brave publishers globally who refuse to be intimidated and continue to exercise their freedom to publish.”

Gui was given the Prix Voltaire in February 2018 at the IPA’s World Publishers Congress in New Delhi. The 10,000-Swiss-franc (US$10,294) humanitarian award was accepted by Gui’s daughter Angela, who is based in the United Kingdom.

In October, a vigil was held for Gui at Frankfurter Buchmesse, an action that also acknowledged the unrest at the time in Hong Kong. In reflection of the Hong Kong protests—in which umbrellas have been a trademark—umbrellas were used in the vigil, which also had the endorsement of the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels—Germany’s publishers and booksellers association.

Gui’s Strange, Troubling Ordeal

An October 17 vigil for detained publisher and Prix Voltaire winner Gui Minhai during Frankfurter Buchmesse. Image: Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, vntr.media

As regular readers of Publishing Perspectives know, Gui Minhai, the China-born naturalized Swedish publisher, originally was abducted in October 2015 from his home in Pattaya, Thailand, and detained in mainland China with four others.

He was of interest to Beijing because his Hong Kong publishing company Mighty Current had produced what has been characterized in news reports as “salacious and often thinly-sourced books on China’s political elite.” At one point after his disappearance, Gui appeared on state television, in a confession for an alleged drunken driving death in 2003.

He was freed from detention two years after his abduction, in October 2017, but was required to remain in China. His daughter has said he was based in Ningbo.

On January 20, 2018, he was abducted again, while accompanied by two Swedish diplomats on a train journey for a medical examination.

His medical appointment was to have occurred at the Swedish embassy in Beijing. It was unclear from reports whether his diplomatic escort was able to put up any resistance to what was described as a group of some 10 men who boarded the train to remove Gui.

The abduction team members were said to wear plainclothes. It was not clear who they were and for which enforcement service they might work. Strident denunciations of the move have came from Stockholm, Washington, and Brussels, but to no avail.

This newest information on a sentencing comes as a rather sudden and troubling update to the story, as the news on his case has been quiet for some time.

At the South China Morning Post, based in Hong Kong and owned by the Alibaba group, Zinnia Lee has only three sentences on the news. The story refers to Gui as a bookseller and says, “In a statement released February 24, the court said that in addition to his prison term, Gui will be deprived of political rights for five years and that he will not appeal the verdict.”

Companies contributing to the Prix Voltaire’s purse for its winners are:

More coverage from Publishing Perspectives on the case of Gui Minhai is here, and on IPA’s Prix Voltaire is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.