On Saturday last week, for the second time in two years, Swedish publisher Gui Minhai (桂民海) disappeared at the hands of Chinese security agents, only to have Beijing authorities, at least initially, disavow any knowledge of the incident.
The China-born Gui renounced his Chinese citizenship when he became a Swedish citizen, but that did not help when in October 2015, he vanished from a holiday home in Thailand, only to reappear weeks later in China, where he was allegedly wanted for a long-ago traffic accident.
His real crime was being co-owner of the Hong Kong-based publishing house that specialized in salacious books about the lives of China’s political elite.
He was released from detention in October last year, but, according to his daughter, was placed under surveillance in a police-managed apartment. He was on a train bound for Beijing on Saturday, accompanied by two Swedish diplomats, when he was removed by Chinese police, once again falling victim to China’s intolerance for dissent, something that has been on full display since the summer of 2015.
Taiwanese human rights advocate Lee Ming-che (李明哲), like Gui, is not a Chinese citizen, but that did not stop Chinese authorities in November last year sentencing him to five years in prison on charges of subversion of state power.
Rights activist and blogger Wu Gan (吳淦) was detained in 2015 and sentenced last month on the same charge as Lee.
Xie Yang (謝陽), a lawyer who defended Chinese supporters of Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, was arrested in July 2015 and held in isolation in a secret detention center. After his release, he told of torture and abuse at the hands of interrogators who reportedly threatened to turn him into an “invalid” if he did not confess the way they wanted.
On Friday last week, prominent rights lawyer Yu Wensheng (余文生) was detained in Beijing by police and a SWAT team as he left his home to walk his child to school, hours after providing journalists with a letter calling for constitutional reform.
These are just some of the most high-profile cases of individuals, regardless of nationality, being taken by the Chinese authorities, often on dubious charges, and in many cases — such as Yu’s — when they are fully complying with Chinese law, and merely exploring ways in which society and the state could be improved.
Publishing salacious stories about the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership is not going to bring the state down. Seeking to stir debate on democratic values, as Lee did, should be regarded as healthy. Attempting to make sure that citizens are given access to due process of law should not be seen as a crime. However, this is not how the CCP, paranoid about losing its grip on power, sees it.
It is heartening to see the European Parliament passing a resolution calling for the Chinese government to release several activists such as Lee, addressing the cases of Wu and Xie, and expressing concern over the Chinese government’s approach to rights activists and lawyers.
The Chinese authorities will no doubt rebuff such calls, saying that the people it arrests and detains have violated Chinese law and telling other nations not to intervene in its domestic affairs.
The government of a nation has the right to arrest and prosecute individuals that break the law of the land. However, when such laws run contrary to international legal norms and agreements, such a defense is specious.
This is why stories such as Lee’s and Gui’s should serve as a caution to Taiwanese who see nothing wrong with the idea of China annexing Taiwan. These people can argue for the sentimental lure of the motherland, or the economic benefits that being part of China might bring, but are such benefits worth the lack of freedoms, the arbitrary abuse of power and the risk of being arrested by a SWAT team as you take your daughter to school?
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