28 Jan 2018 16:57 IST

US calls for release of missing Chinese bookseller

A US State Department spokeswoman called on China to disclose Gui Minhai’s whereabouts

President Donald Trump’s administration has joined European governments in urging China to release a Swedish citizen who sold gossipy books about Chinese leaders.

A US State Department spokeswoman called on China to disclose Gui Minhai’s whereabouts and allow him to leave China if he wishes.

“We call on Chinese authorities to explain the reasons and legal basis for Mr Gui’s arrest and detention, disclose his whereabouts, and allow him freedom of movement and the freedom to leave China,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

The US “will continue to coordinate with our partners, allies and regional organisations on promoting greater respect for human rights in China,” Nauert said.

Around 10 Chinese police officers surrounded Gui and Swedish diplomats on January 20 as they travelled by train to Beijing. Gui, a naturalised Swedish citizen, was seized and his whereabouts remain unknown.

Gui had disappeared from his home in Thailand in 2015 and reappeared months later in China after being sentenced for a decade-old traffic violation.

In a videotaped confession that supporters believe was coerced, Gui stated that he had turned himself in to mainland authorities over a hit-and-run accident.

That spurred suspicions that he had been abducted by the Chinese security services. He remained closely supervised even after his release from prison.

His latest detention has particularly rattled Western governments after it unfolded in the presence of diplomats.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry says it has no information about Gui’s whereabouts, but has suggested that he may have been breaking the terms of his release. The ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment today.

Gui was one of five Hong Kong booksellers whose disappearances symbolised China’s determination to enforce its hard line on squelching political dissent and a free press despite international criticism.

He was released into house arrest in October in the eastern city of Ningbo, living in what his daughter Angela called a police-managed apartment.

Under Chinese law, those convicted of a crime generally have their civil rights suspended for a period of time, although it wasn’t clear whether that applied in Gui’s case.

The prohibitions, which are often not made public, can also include restrictions on travel.

The office of EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has said it “fully supports the public statement and efforts of the Swedish government” on Gui’s behalf.