Missing Hong Kong bookseller in China to answer 11-year-old conviction: state media

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 17, 2016 10:47 AM

By Matthew Miller and Sui-Lee Wee

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Swedish bookseller whose mysterious disappearance has sparked fears he may have been taken by Chinese agents said he had voluntarily turned himself in to the authorities for a drink-driving accident that resulted in a death 11 years ago.

Gui Minhai, who vanished from his apartment in Thailand last October, voluntarily returned to China to answer a conviction from 2004 for killing a student, state media said on Sunday.

"I am returning to surrender by personal choice, it has nothing to do with anyone," Gui, looking distraught, said in a China Central Television (CCTV) broadcast. "This is a personal responsibility that I ought to bear."

Gui, a naturalized Swedish citizen, is one of five members to have gone missing from a Hong Kong bookstore that specializes in selling gossipy political books on China's ruling Communist Party leaders.

The disappearances, and China's silence, have prompted fears that mainland Chinese authorities may be using shadowy tactics that erode the "one country, two systems" formula under which Hong Kong has been governed since its return to China from British rule in 1997.

In recent years, state media have publicized a string of what are presented as confessions made by high-profile suspects. Critics say these accounts deprive the accused of the right to a fair trial.

Sweden is continuing "to seek clarifications from the Chinese authorities" on Gui's case, said Gabriella Augustsson, head of public diplomacy for the Swedish embassy in Beijing.

"We still have no information regarding the man's exact whereabouts," Augustsson told Reuters in an email. "This is serious and we continue to work intensively to find out what has happened."

Earlier this month, the Swedish Foreign Ministry said it had raised Gui's case with the Chinese ambassador to Stockholm.

Gui's daughter Angela, who is based in Britain, told Reuters late on Sunday she believed the Swedish authorities were doing everything they could to help with the case.

It was not possible to contact Gui and it remains unclear whether he has a lawyer.

DAUGHTER BELIEVES GUI ABDUCTED

Angela Gui said she could not confirm what was being reported but she still believed her father had been abducted and his detention was related to his work.

"There's got to be a reason it happened now and that the others were taken as well," she said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei declined to elaborate on the case at a daily news briefing.

"As for the relevant case, the media reports are already quite detailed," Hong said, adding he had nothing new to say.

Gui Minhai cautioned in the report "any individual or organization" against intervening or "engaging in malicious speculation".

His confession was broadcast Sunday night on CCTV, which called it an "exclusive interview". The official Xinhua News Agency published a separate report.

Gui, who holds a Swedish passport, "surrendered to public security organs" in October, Xinhua said, without providing details about his surrender or transport from Thailand.

He was sentenced to two years' imprisonment, suspended for two years, after killing a female student in the coastal city of Ningbo while driving drunk, the report said.

Gui fled in August 2006 and his two-year probation was revoked. He is now suspected of other crimes, the report said.

"Although I have Swedish citizenship, I truly feel I'm Chinese, my roots are still in China. So I hope that Sweden will respect my personal choice, respect my rights and privacy and let me solve my own problems," Gui said.

The five missing booksellers include Lee Bo, a British passport holder who disappeared from Hong Kong at the end of last month.

Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying said on Monday the government was taking the case seriously and would continue to investigate the circumstances of those missing.

Leung's comments came after a Hong Kong-based Chinese official expressed concern on Friday at the disappearances but warned investigations were "complicated".

Another official, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, said on Jan. 5 that Lee was "first and foremost a Chinese citizen" and urged others not to make "groundless accusations".

In a handwritten note dated Jan. 3 and purportedly written and signed by Lee, he said he had traveled back to China in order to assist with an unspecified "investigation". Photos of the note were circulated widely on social and Hong Kong media but could not be verified by Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Anne Marie Roantree, Clare Jim, Donny Kwok and Stella Tsang in Hong Kong; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)