The daughter of the only Mighty Current publisher still to be detained by Chinese authorities, Angela Gui, is tomorrow (Thursday 20th October) addressing the International Publishers Association (IPA) Freedom to Publish committee and Borsenverein's Freedom of Expression Exchange at Frankfurt Book Fair to rally the global book trade to take action over her father’s plight.
It is nearly a year to the day since Swedish-Chinese bookseller Gui Minhai went missing from his holiday home in Pattaya, Thailand, on 17th October 2015, without any record of his departure. He was one among the now-notorious five members of staff who went missing from Hong Kong-based publishing house Mighty Current and its bookshop Causeway Bay Books, which published and sold critical books about China’s political élite. Gui re-emerged on Chinese State TV in January to “confess” he’d turned himself in over a decade-ago drink-driving accident, but Amnesty International has said it suspects the tape was made under duress.
His daughter Angela Gui is attending the Frankfurt Book Fair this week at the invitation of the IPA to further champion his cause, after recently launching a website dedicated to raising awareness of her father's plight at freeguiminhai.org. The website features a ticking clock as a reminder of how long he has now been detained.
Gui told The Bookseller she is especially “disappointed” in the UK's efforts to bring home the illegally detained bookseller and dissident from China. The UK has “a responsibility” to uphold the "one nation, two systems" principle in Hong Kong, Gui said. Under the joint declaration in 1984 over Hong Kong’s future, China had given Hong Kong autonomy over its own laws and guaranteed freedom of speech.
"I feel a little bit disappointed the UK government hasn't done much,” she said. "I see in part it might be due to internal turmoil within UK politics lately, but I think it's really important because the UK has the role that it does in the Sino-British declaration and the agreements that were made. It's important symbolically the UK steps up to demonstrate this is unacceptable. The UK has a responsibility because of its history with HK and China to lead action in the international community.”
Gui, a masters student living in the UK, has been branded a “troublemaker” by the Chinese foreign ministry for her role in publicising her father's case, and is isolated from her extended family in mainland China out of concern they are under surveilance. "I don't feel I'm in a position to contact them at the moment, thinking it's not unlikely my dad's family are all under some extent of surveillance - and having been called 'a trouble maker' by the foreign ministry I don't think I would be doing them any favours by contacting them," she said.
While she said this was “a scary thing to hear”, she is determined to continue raising awareness of her father’s imprisonment, appearing first at Gothenburg Book Fair last month and again at FBF this week, despite veiled threats and calls from her father that her doing so would "make things worse" for him.
"It's surreal it's been almost a year," she said. "I don't know how else to describe it. The more that time passes, a resolution to all this seems further and further away. I was hoping he would be released quite quickly, especially when all of his colleagues started coming back in the spring. Now that nothing has happened in so long, it's been a year and there haven't been any signs that anything is going to happen anytime soon …I'm starting to feel like I don't even know if I can ever expect to see him again.
"I've tried to come to terms with that. I don't know in what terms to think about it in. I can't do anything about that apart from trying to raise the profile of the case."
She added: "Theoretically he could be released tomorrow or they could keep him for the rest of his life; I have no idea. I still don't know [on what formal charge he has been detained under]. I haven't been told.”
The Swedish government has been pursuing the case at a consular level pressing for access and details of the charges against Gui. According to Angela Gui, he appeared "very tired” during Swedish diplomats’ most recent visit at the end of September.
The business of selling the kinds of political books Gui used to publish has been affected following his kidnapping and detention, with Singaporian chain Page One pulling titles from its shelves in January. A clerk at the store said earlier this year, "We are not going to sell them again. I think you can understand." Angela Gui said of this, while many of her father's books were, perhaps unfairly, dismissed as "tabloid", this too was "a really important outlet for people to start thinking critically about their leadership for having been exposed to any alternate narrative or opinion", particularly in China.
"Most of the business of selling this kind of book in HK has now shut down after what happened to my dad and his colleagues and I think that is really significant," she said.
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