Beijing and Stockholm continue to be locked in a diplomatic row after a noted literary organisation honoured Gui Minhai, who was abducted four years ago and remains under detention in China.
Mr Gui was awarded the 2019 Tucholsky prize, in recognition of his work in service of freedom of speech, given annually to a persecuted or exiled writer, by the Swedish arm of PEN international.
An empty chair symbolically represented Mr Gui at the Stockholm reception last Friday.
But the move angered Beijing, with Chinese authorities threatening to ban Swedish minister for culture Amanda Lind, who presented the award, from entering China.
The Chinese embassy in Stockholm called her attendance at the ceremony a “serious mistake,” and threatened that “wrong deeds will only meet with bad consequences.” The embassy also called the decision to award the prize “an outright political farce,” accusing Sweden of having an “ulterior political agenda” biased against China.
Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven, however, stressed that Stockholm would not back down. “We are not going to give in to this type of threat. Never. We have freedom of expression in Sweden, and that’s how it is, period,” Mr Lofven told Swedish television.
Mr Gui, a Chinese-born Swedish citizen, was abducted in Thailand in 2015 and vanished into the Chinese state, in a case that has strained ties between Beijing and Stockholm for years.
He was one of several Hong Kong-based book publishers who put out books critical of China’s Communist Party elite, all of whom disappeared around the same time. The case captured international attention given the audacity of the Chinese government to kidnap people abroad and squirrel them back to the mainland, and stoked fears of the long arm of the state to silence dissidents.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party routinely prisons people critical of the government, including foreign nationals, typically forcing them to confess to justify prolonged detention or trumped-up charges.
In Mr Gui’s case, he appeared on Chiense state television saying he had surrendered after leaving a fatal drunk-driving accident more than a decade earlier, in a confession that many human rights experts, and his family, believe to be made under duress. Chinese authorities continue to maintain that he is a criminal
Little is known about his whereabouts, or when he might be released.
The Tucholsky prize is named for German writer Kurt Tucholsky who fled Nazi Germany for Sweden; past recipients include Salman Rushdie.
The American arm of PEN plans to publish a book of Mr Gui’s poetry next year, work that has been smuggled out of prison.
Holding Mr Gui against his will for years is “a breathtakingly blatant violation of human rights and international law,’ said James Tager of PEN America.
“Such efforts at intimidation are shameless and abhorrent. If China truly doesn’t want to be criticised over its appalling treatment of Gui Minhai, here’s a solution: release him.”