Gui Minhai is a bookseller from Hong Kong who is currently languishing in prison because he offended the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). However, Gui succeeded in smuggling out a few poems he wrote in prison that were recently released as a collection by a Swedish publisher.
Poems in captivity
In total, the collection has 11 poems that have been translated into Swedish. The poems focus on Gui’s vision of Sweden, talking about Swedish people and Norse mythology while also containing reflections of his life in jail. One stanza from a poem laments how it would be embarrassing to stop writing poems just because the poetry has been caged. The collection, called I draw a door on the wall with my finger, was published on May 5, which also happened to be Gui’s 56th birthday. His daughter, Angela Gui, has written the preface.
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According to Martin Kaunitz of the Stockholm-based publisher Kaunitz-Olsson, Gui had memorized the poems in prison. “When he was released for a short while, he wrote them down and smuggled them out to his daughter… Some of the poems were published in both Swedish and international newspapers a year ago or so. But this is the first time the complete collection of prison poems is made available,” he said, as reported by the Hong Kong Free Press.
Gui was arrested in 2018 while on a train in China, accompanied by Swedish diplomats. In February this year, he was convicted by a court to a 10-year jail term on charges of providing intelligence to foreigners. Gui had become a Swedish citizen in 1992. As such, the Swedish administration has demanded access to him. But the Chinese court claims that Gui voluntarily reinstated his Chinese citizenship in 2018. And since China does not recognize dual citizenship, it has rejected Sweden’s claim of Gui being their citizen.
A thorn for the regime
Gui Minhai is known to have published several books on the lives of Communist Party members that exposed them. After his sentencing, Amnesty International criticized the judgment, calling it “completely unsubstantiated.” Back in 2015, Gui disappeared from the public’s eye for some time, only to reappear in an interview where he confessed to being involved in a fatal accident 10 years ago. He was given a prison term of two years.
Supporters of Gui have pointed out that the interview was forced and that such things were common tactics adopted by the communist regime. Angela Gui has been campaigning for the release of her father. Last year, she was visited by two Chinese contacts who pressed her to accept a deal where her father would spend only a few years in prison provided she stopped criticizing the Chinese government. Angela refused. A Swedish ambassador who arranged the meeting was fired by the government.
In November 2019, the Swedish PEN (a worldwide association of writers) awarded the prestigious Tucholsky prize to Gui Minhai. The award is named after German writer Kurt Tucholsky, who fled Germany during Nazi rule, and it is conferred on persecuted authors. This caused a huge diplomatic row between China and Sweden, with Beijing warning that there would be “consequences.”
Michael Caster, the co-founder of the human rights organization Safeguard Defenders, believes that Gui Mihani is emblematic of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Chinese Communist Party.