Swedish national Gui Minhai, one of five Hong Kong booksellers detained by Chinese police for selling "banned books" to customers across the internal border in mainland China, is now at his parental home in the eastern city of Ningbo, and has yet to regain his liberty, sources told RFA on Friday.
Sweden on Tuesday said that Gui was released two years after he was detained and taken to mainland China under opaque circumstances from his holiday home in Thailand.
But Gui's U.K.-based daughter Angela said she has yet to hear from her father, and assumes he isn't free until he is seen to move around freely and contact friends and family.
"We have been in contact with Gui Minhai directly, when we learned that after his release from prison on Oct. 17, he was taken under various forms of control to his birthplace, Ningbo, and is currently together with his wife Jennifer, who is a German national," Independent Chinese PEN founder Meng Lang told RFA.
"We have reason to suspect that this merely represents a change in the manner of his incarceration," Meng said. "We don't know why the Chinese government is doing this."
"It is now two years since [Gui] was kidnapped in Thailand and taken back to China, before suddenly appearing to make a televised 'confession' on China Central Television," he said. "Of course we would like to know what has happened to him during that time."
Meng called on the Chinese government to allow Gui, who was detained alongside four of his colleagues at the Causeway Bay bookstore and Mighty Current publishing company, to travel overseas immediately.
Unlikely allowed to leave
In February 2016, the U.K. accused Beijing of breaching the handover treaty by "involuntarily removing" Gui's colleague British national Lee Bo across the internal immigration border to mainland China.
There is no record of Lee leaving Hong Kong, suggesting that he was spirited across the internal immigration border by Chinese police, while colleagues Lui Por, Lam Wing-kei and Cheung Chi-ping were also detained in late 2015 after they crossed the border into China.
Lui, Cheung and Lam were later released after making televised "confessions" with a set of instructions from China's state security police: to reappear in Hong Kong, refute reports of their disappearance, and claim to be voluntarily helping police with their inquiries.
But Lam Wing-kei, who refused to to stick to that script and has since traveled to the democratic island of Taiwan, told RFA that Gui is very unlikely to be allowed to leave China now.
"I think it'll take a few months, maybe six, before they finally release him," Lam said. "It's the same for all dissidents, and the rights lawyers detained since July 2015."
"It goes like this: first they announce that you have been released, then they hold you under surveillance for another few months, maybe even a year, and then they finally release you for real," he said.
"They are worried that, if they release Gui Minghai, he will tell the whole story of the Causeway Bay bookstore incident."
Lam said the authorities are likely to use Gui's relatives still living in China as "hostages" to prevent him from speaking out even if he is allowed to leave the country.
Sweden urged to act
Independent Chinese PEN co-founder Bei Ling said Gui and his wife are currently renting an apartment in Ningbo. But there are signs that Gui's Swedish passport has been taken away from him.
"Sweden has announced that a person speaking Swedish and asking to be re-issued with a new Swedish passport called the consulate in Shanghai," Bei said. "I have been able to confirm that that call was made by Gui Minhai himself."
"I suspect that even this rented accommodation has been arranged for them by the police, and I think it's very unlikely that he'll be in touch with anyone except his family," Bei said. "We are worried that the Chinese authorities may be preventing him from leaving China freely."
The New York-based Human Rights Watch called on Sweden to take further action to confirm Gui's situation.
"Until Swedish authorities can fully ascertain that Gui has been unconditionally released—that means a private visit—they should assume he remains disappeared and raise the matter directly with senior Chinese officials and in international forums," the group said in a blog post following Gui's "release."
It said the Chinese government has not only violated Gui Minhai’s fundamental human rights, but it has done so across international borders.
"This should be a matter of grave concern not only for Sweden, but for all countries that care about the security of their citizens," it said.
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.