Gui Minhai: Why did China sentence the Swedish book-seller to 10 years in prison?

Gui Minhai was awarded Sweden's Tucholsky prize by the Swedish PEN, a decision that rattled relations between Sweden and China, with the latter threatening repercussions

The Ningbo Intermediate People's Court of China sentenced Chinese-born Swedish national Gui Minhai to 10 years in prison on Monday, February 24. He was sentenced on charges of illegally providing intelligence overseas. He was arrested by Chinese authorities, on two occasions in the past--in 2015 and 2018. Gui Minhai is a bookseller, who was previously based in Hong Kong and published books, critical of the Chinese leadership.

Gui Minhai sentenced to 10 years in prison

Gui Minhai
Gui Minhai with daughter Angela Gui Twitter/Angela Gui

He was sentenced on charges of providing intelligence to overseas parties, Reuters reported. He has also been sentenced to a five-year 'deprivation of political rights', thus he won't be able to lead state-owned enterprises or hold positions in state organs.

The Swedish book-seller got his Chinese citizenship reinstated in 2018, but it isn't clear if he had given up his Swedish citizenship. Chinese law doesn't allow dual citizenship. The court said in its statement that Gui agreed with the verdict and will not appeal.

Case of Gui Minhai

Gui was among the five Hong Kong booksellers, affiliated to Causeway Bay Books, which sold political gossip titles. He disappeared in 2015 while holidaying in Thailand. He reappeared in mainland China, video-taped, in which he confessed his crimes, which included involvement in a fatal traffic accident and smuggling illegal books. In his video, Gui was shown blaming Sweden for "sensationalizing" his case and "instigating" law-breaking behaviour.

Having been released in October, 2017, he was arrested again in 2018, while he was travelling to capital Beijing, along with some Swedish diplomats, to seek medical help. The current prison sentence comes after his 2018 arrest. His family and friends have been held, his long detainment is part of political repression orchestrated by Chinese authorities, AFP reported.

China's criminal, Sweden's Tucholsky Prize awardee

Last year, Gui was conferred with Tucholsky prize given by Swedish PEN, a decision that angered China, which threatened Sweden of possible consequences. The prize is named after German writer Kurt Tucholsky, who fled Nazi Germany and took refuge in Sweden. Angered, China alleged that the prize conferred to Gui was due to "ulterior political agenda and consistent biases and hostility against China" and called it a "mockery of genuine freedom of speech".

Despite China's pressure to withdraw its decision, Sweden went forward with the ceremony, with an empty chair on stage, marking Gui's absence. "We are not going to give in to this type of threat," Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, had said then. "Never. We have freedom of expression in Sweden and that's how it is, period," he added.