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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Labour of love: a daughter's campaign to free her father

Angela Gui refuses to give up campaigning for her father's release from China, even though her own life may be in danger

Anela, a PhD student at Cambridge University says she will never stop campaigning for her father, bookseller Gui  Minhai, who disappeared on October 17, 2015. He was known to publish ossipy books about Chinese political leaders.  Photo courtesy of Angela Gui via AFP
Anela, a PhD student at Cambridge University says she will never stop campaigning for her father, bookseller Gui Minhai, who disappeared on October 17, 2015. He was known to publish ossipy books about Chinese political leaders. Photo courtesy of Angela Gui via AFP

Two years after her bookseller father vanished into Chinese detention, Angela Gui refuses to give up her campaign to free him, despite growing concerns for her own safety.

Gui Minhai disappeared on October 17, 2015, one of five Hong Kong booksellers who went missing. All were known for publishing gossipy titles about Chinese political leaders.

For the first 18 months, Ms Gui barely slept. But as she begins studying for a PhD at Cambridge University in England, the 23-year-old student has turned her campaign to release him into a kind of job, which she says is helping her to cope.

"My dad … wouldn't just be quiet if his own daughter ended up in that situation," Ms Gui said. "I thought: 'Well if he would do that for me, I will just do what he would do'."

She has had three brief phone calls from her father since his disappearance, all telling her that he is fine and she must not get involved with his case — which she believes he did not say voluntarily. But she has refused to keep quiet and has regularly publicised her father's plight, including addressing a United States congressional hearing on China's persecution of its critics.

Last week, Ms Gui had the first news of her father in almost a year after the Swedish ambassador to China, Anna Lindstedt, was granted access to him.

Born in China and living in Hong Kong, Mr Gui was also a Swedish citizen, having spent part of his life working there. Angela was brought up in the southern Swedish city of Gothenburg. The Swedish government is also working on Mr Gui's case.

Patric Nilsson, deputy director at the Swedish foreign ministry said Mr Gui told Ms Lindstedt he "feels good."

— 'Huge relief' —

"It was a huge relief to know not only was he alive, but he didn't look as bad as one might fear," Ms Gui said. She was told her father had no visible signs of injury.

The Swedish ambassador also told Ms Gui her father had spent most of their 20-minute meeting talking about her.

"I was quite grateful that she told him I was doing really well, and for him not to worry," Ms Gui said.

Angela Gui as a child with her father Gui Minhai, who disappeared on October 17, 2015, one of five Hong Kong booksellers known for publishing gossipy titles about Chinese political leaders to go missing. Photo courtesy of Angela Gui via AFP
Angela Gui as a child with her father Gui Minhai, who disappeared on October 17, 2015, one of five Hong Kong booksellers known for publishing gossipy titles about Chinese political leaders to go missing. Photo courtesy of Angela Gui via AFP

Mr Gui, now 52, disappeared in 2015 while on holiday in Thailand and is being held at an undisclosed location in China. In 2016, he appeared on Chinese television saying he had returned to take responsibility for his involvement in a fatal car accident years before in Zhejiang province, a confession that was roundly dismissed by human rights campaigners.

According to an official in Zhejiang the case is still under investigation. Ms Gui says she has received no information on specific charges against him or how long he will be held.

Mr Gui is the only one of the five booksellers still in detention. His colleague Lam Wing-kee went missing in China and skipped bail on a return visit to Hong Kong to give an explosive account of his detention and interrogation. Two other booksellers who went missing in China have been released. Angela Gui believes they are under surveillance and unable to leave the mainland.

The fifth man, Lee Bo, — who Ms Gui says she knows well — disappeared in Hong Kong and resurfaced over the border in China, later insisting he had gone there of his own volition to help with an investigation. He was allowed to return to Hong Kong and has since maintained a low profile.

— Never forget —

Ms Gui asked her father whether his book work was risky, but he said it was legal in Hong Kong and he was not worried. But she knows he never gave his address for mail, using a post office box instead.

Since his disappearance, Ms Gui has become concerned for her own safety. She says two Chinese men manhandled her when she attended a book fair in Germany and took photos of her. She reported it to police in the UK and Sweden, who gave her numbers to call in an emergency and warned her not to travel to Asia.

She said she feels safe in England, but the restrictions are a reminder of a "sense of threat". She clings to the hope that her father will soon return home.

"Otherwise I'd feel pointless doing what I do," she said. She plans to hold a vigil outside the Chinese embassy in London on the anniversary of her father's disappearance next month.

"Something to show we haven't forgotten."