03:51 - Source: CNN
Next Hong Kong leader on missing bookseller

Story highlights

Gui Minhai was one of five Hong Kong booksellers who disappeared in late 2015

One of the five claimed he was kidnapped by the Chinese authorities

Hong Kong CNN  — 

China says it has released a Swedish citizen from jail – but nobody really knows where he is.

Chinese officials said Gui Minhai was freed on October 17, but both his daughter and Swedish authorities do not know his current whereabouts and his family is concerned for his safety.

Gui – a Swedish passport holder – first disappeared in late 2015 from his home in Thailand before reemerging in an apparently staged confession on Chinese state television.

He was later jailed for his alleged involvement in a 2003 hit-and-run case. In a statement Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry said “based on our understanding, Gui Minhai has fulfilled his sentence for a traffic offense, and was released on October 17.”

Angela Gui, who has long worked for her father’s release, confirmed that the Swedish embassy in Beijing had been informed by Chinese authorities that Gui would be released on that date after completing a two-year sentence.

However, a week later, she said Gui’s family still don’t know where he is and are concerned for his well-being.

“Neither I nor any member of my family nor any of his friends have been contacted,” his daughter said.

Swedish officials in Shanghai, she added, had received a phone call from someone claiming to be Gui, who said he was spending time with his sick mother.

‘Deeply concerned’

“To my knowledge my grandmother is not ill,” Angela Gui said. “My father is not in fact with her. It is still very unclear where he is. I am deeply concerned for his wellbeing.”

The Swedish embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Margot Wallström‏, the country’s foreign minister, said on Twitter she welcomed “official Chinese information about release of (Swedish) citizen Gui Minhai,” but added she was “seeking further clarification” on the matter.

Sweden’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Patric Nilsson told CNN affiliate Expressen his department has “been notified by the Chinese authorities that (Gui) has been released,” but did not give further details on Tuesday.

Disappearing booksellers

Gui Minhai was one of five Hong Kong booksellers who disappeared in late 2015. The men specialized in scandalous and gossipy books about the Chinese leadership which are banned on the mainland.

Their disappearance sparked mass protests in Hong Kong, particularly after allegations that one of them, Lee Bo, was abducted by Chinese police, who are not allowed to operate in the partially self-governing city.

A British passport holder, the UK had said that Lee was “involuntary removed” from Hong Kong and the case was a “serious breach” of a bilateral treaty with China.

Lee later returned to Hong Kong where he told officials he’d been in mainland China to help with an investigation into Gui.

The other booksellers also appeared to be cooperating with the authorities until one of the men, Lam Wing-kee, went public, telling the media he had been kidnapped and forced to confess on Chinese state TV.

Despite the outrage however, and condemnations from the US, UK and other European governments, little action was taken on the booksellers by Hong Kong authorities.

Speaking to CNN in June, the city’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said it was not “appropriate for us to go into the mainland or challenge what happens on the mainland.”

The bookseller case “has to be dealt with in accordance with the mainland’s system,” she said.

Gui’s alleged release and apparent disappearance adds another twist to the case. In a statement, free speech advocacy group PEN America compared his case to Liu Xia, wife of the late Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who has not been seen publicly since her husband’s death.

“It is impossible to believe that Gui Minhai is free when he has not contacted his family or friends, when he has not been seen by anyone, and when his whereabouts are not publicly known,” said PEN senior manager of free expression James Tager.

“Chinese authorities cannot simply claim that Gui is free without evidence. We have called for Gui’s freedom during the months and years that he has been in illegal detention, and we will continue to call for it now.”