Rights activists cast doubt on HK missing bookseller ‘confession’

Agence France-Presse
Rights activists cast doubt on HK missing bookseller ‘confession’


Rights campaigners cast doubt over the apparent confession by a missing Hong Kong bookseller paraded on Chinese state television

HONG KONG – Rights campaigners cast doubt on Monday, January 18, over the apparent confession by a missing Hong Kong bookseller paraded on Chinese state television saying he had surrendered to authorities over a fatal drink driving accident.

Gui Minhai, a Swedish national, is one of 5 missing booksellers from a Hong Kong-based publisher known for salacious titles critical of the Chinese government. Their disappearance has sparked alarm in the southern Chinese city which is guaranteed a range of freedoms not seen on the mainland.

Gui failed to return from a holiday in Thailand in October, according to local media.

In his confession on state broadcaster CCTV Sunday, January 17, he said he had returned to China to “take legal responsibilities” for killing a college student in a car accident 11 years ago.

Weeping Gui said he had fled the mainland after he was convicted of the crime, despite only receiving a two-year suspended sentence.

But Amnesty International’s East Asia director Nicholas Bequelin said the broadcast raised more questions than answers. 

“From the legal standpoint the video is worthless,” he told Agence France-Presse.

“Where is he? Under what authority is he detained? What are the circumstances under which he gave this interview? We cannot exclude the possibility that he made the statement under duress,” he said.

The disappearances have fuelled growing unease in Hong Kong over the erosion of freedoms in the city, which was handed back to China from Britain in 1997 but was guaranteed it would remain largely autonomous for a further 50 years.

‘Smoke screen’

Of the five booksellers who have gone missing, the latest to have disappeared, Lee Bo, sparked the biggest backlash as he was the only one of the five to have disappeared from Hong Kong.

That raised fears that Chinese security authorities were working in Hong Kong’s territory, against the city’s laws.

Lee Cheuk-yan, a pro-democracy lawmaker in Hong Kong, said of the Gui confession that China was “trying to hide the fact that they are detaining him for the bookstore”.

“The traffic accident has nothing to do with it and there was nothing in the video that says how he ended up in China,” he said, describing the broadcast as a “smoke screen”.

All 5 men worked for the Mighty Current publishing house which operates a bookstore in the commercial heart of Hong Kong.

CCTV’s website ran a news report in 2005, in which a man named Gui Minhai was said to have fled overseas in 2004 after he was given a two-year suspended sentence for killing a 23-year-old college student in the eastern city of Ningbo.

While the report could relate to the missing bookseller, there are nevertheless discrepancies.

CCTV says Gui was 46 in 2005, but on Sunday state news agency Xinhua gave his current age as 51.

After Sunday’s confession, a Hong Kong news website also ran a letter said to be written by Lee Bo in which he said Gui had a “complex history.”

“He killed a person in a drink-driving crash and irresponsibly fled overseas,” read the letter, published on the Headline Daily website.

“This time he has implicated me,” it said, without giving any further detail. – Rappler.com

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