Sweden’s minister for culture defended freedom of speech at a literary award ceremony for detained bookseller Gui Minhai in Stockholm on Friday, after Beijing’s ambassador threatened to ban her from entering China if she attended the prize-giving, Trend reports citing Reuters.
Gui Minhai, a Chinese-born Swedish citizen, was abducted in Thailand in 2015 and is now detained in China. When based in Hong Kong, he published books critical of China’s leaders, and the case has soured ties between Sweden and China.
Svenska PEN, a literary organization awarded Gui Minhai the 2019 Tucholsky Prize, praising his work in the service of free speech. An empty chair symbolically represented the writer at the ceremony in Stockholm on Friday.
Giving a speech at the event, minister of culture Amanda Lind said freedom of expression was a right in Sweden.
“Those in power should never allow themselves to attack free artistic expression or freedom of speech,” daily Svenska Dagbladet quoted Lind saying.
China’s ambassador to Stockholm had earlier threatened that Lind would be banned from entering China if she attended the ceremony.
“If Amanda Lind, in spite of our advice, attends this ceremony, then no government representatives responsible for cultural affairs will be welcome to China,” Chinese Ambassador Gui Congyou told Swedish news agency TT.
“If a representative of the Swedish government shows up at this ceremony, it would damage our friendly relationship.”
The Chinese embassy in Stockholm did not immediately respond to phone calls and emails requesting comment.
In an interview with Swedish Radio earlier on Friday, the ambassador urged Svenska PEN to cancel the award.
“China resolutely opposes Svenska PEN awarding a criminal and fabricator of lies,” the ambassador said in a transcript of the interview published by the embassy in Stockholm.
Sweden’s foreign ministry said its view remained that China should release Gui Minhai and that it had contacted Chinese authorities over the ambassador’s statements.
“It is not okay to interfere with what the Swedish government does,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde said in an emailed statement to Reuters.
In the transcript, China’s ambassador said Gui Minhai was being held on suspicion of revealing state secrets and intelligence on China, and denied allegations of torture.
The ambassador said Gui Minhai is not a persecuted author but a criminal who has “committed serious offences in both China and Sweden, and a lie-fabricator who viciously attacked the Chinese Government”.