A Chinese court has sentenced Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai to 10 years in jail for “illegally providing intelligence overseas”.
Mr Gui, who holds Swedish citizenship, has been in and out of Chinese detention since 2015, when he went missing during a holiday in Thailand.
He is known to have previously published books on the personal lives of Chinese Communist Party members.
Rights groups condemned the “harsh sentence” and called for his release.
He was one of five owners of a small bookstore in Hong Kong who went missing in 2015. It later emerged that they had been taken to China. Four were later freed, but Mr Gui remained in Chinese detention.
In delivering its verdict, the Ningbo Intermediate People’s Court said that his Chinese citizenship had been reinstated in 2018. China does not recognise dual citizenship.
Sweden’s foreign minister on Tuesday called for Mr Gui’s release, referring to him a “citizen”.
“We have not had access to the trial,” said Ann Linde in a tweet. “[We] demand that Gui be released and that we have access to our citizens to provide consular support.”
But according to a Reuters report, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said consular arrangements had been put on hold because of the latest coronavirus outbreak, and would be restored once the health problem was “resolved”.
Zhao Lijian added that Mr Gui’s “rights and interests… [had] been fully guaranteed”.
Human rights group Amnesty International on Tuesday also called for Mr Gui to be released immediately and said the charges were “completely unsubstantiated”.
A forced confession?
Mr Gui first made headlines in 2015 when he vanished from Thailand and resurfaced in China.
After his disappearance, there were allegations that he had been abducted by Chinese agents. Chinese officials, however, say Mr Gui and the four other men all went to China voluntarily.
The bookseller ultimately confessed to being involved in a fatal traffic accident more than a decade earlier – a confession supporters say was forced.
He served two years in prison but he was arrested months after his release while he was travelling to the Chinese capital of Beijing with two Swedish diplomats.
China later released a video interview featuring Mr Gui. In it, he accused Sweden of “sensationalising” his case. It is not uncommon for Chinese criminal suspects to appear in “confessional” videos.
Earlier in 2019, Sweden recalled its ambassador to China Anna Lindstedt, who was accused of brokering an unauthorised meeting between Angela Gui – the daughter of Mr Gui – and two Chinese businessmen.
Ms Gui – who has been vocal in campaigning for her father’s release – said one of the men had pressured her to accept a deal where her father would go to trial and might be sentenced to “a few years” in prison, and in return she would stop all publicity around her father’s detention.