Gui Minhai, who has been sentenced to 10 years in jail in China. Photo: CCTV

Chinese-Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai has been controversially jailed by a court in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, for 10 years for “illegally providing intelligence” to overseas parties.

On Monday Gui, 55, a former shareholder of the Causeway Bay Bookstore, was stripped of his political rights for five years, according to a statement by the Intermediate People’s Court of Ningbo. 

The court said Gui would not appeal the verdict. It said Gui’s rights under legal procedures had been fully protected and members of the public were allowed to sit in the court. However, the court did not provide any video or photos of Gui.

In October 2015, Gui went missing during a holiday in Thailand. Four other booksellers – Lee Bo, Lam Wing-kee, Lai Por and Cheung Chi-ping – were reportedly abducted in the mainland and Hong Kong in late 2015. They were later found to be detained in the mainland.

In January 2016, Gui was jailed for two years after he “pleaded guilty” to killing a person in a drunk-driving incident in 2003. In late 2017, he was released but arrested again on a train the following month while traveling with two Swedish officials.

The Swedish officials said they were sending Gui to Beijing to cure a condition he suffered from called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. However, Gui was accused of holding several documents containing state secrets, illegally providing intelligence overseas and trying to flee overseas from Beijing. 

Gui was diagnosed with cervical spondylotic amyotrophy, instead of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Xinhua reported, citing medical experts.

In November 2019, Gui was granted the Swedish PEN’s 2019 Tucholsky prize for his contribution to freedom of speech. Chinese ambassador Gui Congyou warned Sweden’s Culture Minister Amanda Lind that she would not be welcome in China if she attended the award ceremony. 

Lind ignored the warning and presented the prize to Gui, who failed to show up, at the award ceremony.

In December, China called off two business delegation visits to Sweden. 

On January 18, Gui Congyou said in an interview with Sweden’s STV that the “frequent vicious attacks on the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government by some Swedish media” were like an ultra-lightweight boxer trying to pick a fight with someone twice his size.

He added that the Chinese embassy would be justified in denying visas to journalists who did not want to visit China to “promote friendship, communication, understanding and cooperation.”

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde called the envoy’s statement an “unacceptable threat” and summoned Gui Congyou on January 21. 

“We have always been clear that we demand that Gui Minhai is released in order to reunite with his daughter and family. That demand remains,” Linde said in a statement on Tuesday.

Lam Wing-kee, who successfully evaded the mainland officers who had taken him to Shenzhen after their mission in Hong Kong in June 2016, said Tuesday that he was surprised to learn that Gui Minhai was sentenced for 10 years. 

He said he did not know whether Gui had received or sold any state secrets. He said it was possible that Gui was jailed for having been involved in the publication of books that would have an impact on Beijing’s governance. 

Lam, who moved to Taiwan last April after the Hong Kong government proposed launching an extradition law, said he would be extra cautious about his personal safety and not return to Hong Kong. He said he was worried about Hong Kong’s future.

Johnny Lau, a political commentator in Hong Kong, said Gui’s sentence could be related to his plan to publish a book that would negatively affect the image of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Lau said Gui was labeled a troublemaker by Beijing as his arrest had raised global concerns. 

In the second half of last year, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong people held protests in the city to oppose the extradition law. They also raised concerns about the Causeway Bay Bookstore incident after Lee Bo was abducted by mainland police and taken from Hong Kong to China.

– additional reporting by AFP

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