BEIJING – A missing Hong Kong publisher of books critical of Beijing appeared weeping on state television Sunday, saying he had returned to China to surrender to police 11 years after fleeing a fatal drunken driving incident.
Gui Minhai, a Swedish national and co-owner of publisher Mighty Current, failed to return from a holiday in Thailand in October, according to local media, since then a further four employees of the company have gone missing.
The disappearances are the latest incidents to fuel growing unease in Hong Kong over the erosion of freedoms in the city, with fears that the five had been detained by Chinese authorities because of the works they published.
In the interview broadcast on Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, Gui said he fled the mainland after he was convicted of killing a college student in a drunken driving incident, despite being given a mere two-year suspended sentence.
“I am taking my legal responsibilities, and am willing to accept any punishment,” he said.
During the interview, which took place in a detention center, Gui sobbed and apologized to the family of the dead student.
Neither Gui nor the accompanying report on CCTV explained how he ended up in police custody in China after last being seen in Thailand.
Sweden has summoned the Chinese and Thai ambassadors and Swedish authorities are reportedly investigating Gui’s disappearance. But despite the widespread alarm in the case, Gui urged Stockholm not to intervene.
“Although I now hold Swedish citizenship, deep down I still think of myself as a Chinese. My roots are in China,” he said in the interview. “I hope the Swedish authorities would respect my personal choices, my rights and my privacy, and allow me to deal with my own issues.”
He added: “This is my due responsibility. I do not want anyone or any institution to be involved or get in the way of my returning, nor do I want any malicious media hype.”
But Gui’s explanation for his detention was immediately met with skepticism by his own daughter, rights groups and Hong Kong media.
Gui’s daughter, known only as Angela, said it was not possible he had surrendered voluntarily when quoted by Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily. She said she hoped to visit her father soon.
Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain in 1997 under a “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement. It enjoys liberties not seen on the mainland, including freedom of the press and publication.
The other missing employees include the publishing company’s general manager, Lui Bo, staff member Cheung Jiping, and bookstore manager Lam Wing-kei, all of whom disappeared in southern China in October.
The latest to vanish was 65-year-old Lee Bo, who was last seen in Hong Kong on Dec. 30.
Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s East Asia regional director, tweeted: “A very elaborate script, and a skillful mix of truths, half-truths and outright lies.”