Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven: “We are not going to give in to this type of threat,” he told a TV interviewer. “Never. We have freedom of expression in Sweden and that’s how it is, period.” Credit: Radio Canada.

Sweden’s prime minister has bravely rejected threats from China that Sweden will “suffer the consequences” for awarding a freedom of speech prize to the detained Chinese-born Swedish publisher Gui Minhai, The Guardian reported.

Gui was one of the five Hong Kong-based publishers and booksellers who disappeared in 2015 having printed books critical of the Chinese government. He reappeared in 2016 in custody, saying on Chinese state television that he had surrendered after fleeing a fatal drink-driving incident 11 years before.

Released in 2017 but prevented from leaving China, Gui was seized by plainclothes police while travelling to Beijing with two Swedish diplomats in January 2018. Since being filmed making what supporters believe was a confession under duress, he has been imprisoned.

Earlier this month, Swedish PEN announced that it would be giving Gui the Tucholsky prize, named after the German writer Kurt Tucholsky who fled Nazi Germany for Sweden.

It is awarded annually to a persecuted or exiled writer, with previous recipients including Salman Rushdie and Belarusian Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich. Swedish PEN said it had chosen Gui to honour his tireless work for free speech.

In its vitriolic response, the Chinese embassy in Stockholm said that the decision to award the prize to Gui was “not only a sheer farce, but also a mockery of genuine freedom of speech and a slap in the face of Swedish PEN itself,” born out of an “ulterior political agenda and consistent biases and hostility against China.”

“As is known to all, Gui Minhai is a criminal who has committed serious offences in both China and Sweden. He is a lie-fabricator and rumour-spreader,” said the embassy, calling on Swedish PEN to cancel the prize. “The producers of this farce ignore the will of Gui Minhai himself, and act on their own wishful thinking, self-righteousness and arrogance. They will surely suffer the consequences of their own actions.”

Despite this, the prize ceremony went ahead on Friday, with an empty chair on the stage to mark Gui’s absence. Presenting, Sweden’s culture and democracy minister Amanda Lind said that those in power should never attack free artistic expression.

Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven rebuffed China’s claims. “We are not going to give in to this type of threat,” he told a TV interviewer. “Never. We have freedom of expression in Sweden and that’s how it is, period.”

The choice of Gui was also backed by PEN International, whose president, the writer Jennifer Clement, said she was appalled at China’s threats.

“This is not the first time that the Chinese regime has tried to intimidate those highlighting the egregious case of injustice against Gui Minhai … We fully support Swedish PEN and its decision,” she said.

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