EU ambassador says he expects release of Swedish citizen detained by China

BEIJING (Reuters) - The European Union’s ambassador to China on Wednesday said he expected Chinese authorities to immediately release Swedish citizen and Hong Kong-based bookseller Gui Minhai, echoing demands from Stockholm.

FILE PHOTO: EU Ambassador to China Hans Dietmar Schweisgut attends a news conference at the Delegation of the European Union to China in Beijing May 9, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Sweden confirmed on Tuesday that Gui, who has published books on the personal lives of Chinese Communist Party leaders, was taken into custody at the weekend while traveling with Swedish diplomats to seek medical treatment in Beijing.

EU Ambassador to China Hans Dietmar Schweisgut told reporters at a briefing that the EU “fully supports” Sweden’s efforts to resolve the issue with China.

“We expect the Chinese authorities to immediately release Gui Minhai from detention and to allow him to reunite with his family, to get consulate support and medical support in line with his rights, because he is a Swedish citizen and also a citizen of the European Union,” Schweisgut said.

Asked about Sweden and the EU ambassador calling for the release of Gui, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying described such appeals as “baseless”.

“Any country must respect the Chinese authorities’ handling of cases involving foreigners in China in accordance with the law,” she told a regular briefing, adding that she had no new information about the case and knew nothing about it.

If any foreign government really wants to protect its citizens, its best course is to educate them to respect the laws of the country they are in, Hua added, without elaborating.

Gui was abducted in Thailand while on holiday in 2015, one of five Hong Kong booksellers who went missing that year and later appeared in custody on mainland China. The four others have returned to Hong Kong.

Chinese authorities said Gui was freed in October after serving a two-year sentence for a traffic offense in 2003.

Sweden’s Foreign Ministry has twice summoned China’s ambassador to Stockholm to explain the situation after he was taken.

His daughter, Angela Gui, says he was taken off a train by plainclothes police while en route to the capital to get medical attention for a neurological ailment.

China’s Ministry of Public Security has not responded to a request for comment on the incident and it has not been possible to reach the Ministry of State Security, which has no website and does not have a publicly available telephone number.

“If a Swedish citizen can be abducted and held incommunicado without consequences, then it could happen to any EU citizen,” said a European diplomat.

Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina; Editing by Paul Tait