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Swedish PM hits back at China over literature prize threat

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Swedish PM hits back at China over literature prize threat
Protesters from Swedish Pen demonstrate outside the Chinese embassy in Stockholm in 2018. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
09:12 CET+01:00
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has promised to stand firm in the face of threats from China over a prize for the imprisoned dissident writer Gui Minhai.
"The Culture Minister will hand out the prize. She has been asked to do so and said 'yes', so of course we are going to follow through on that," he said in an interview with public broadcaster SVT.
 
"We have no intention of yielding to these sorts of threats. Ever. We have freedom of expression in Sweden and that is what applies here. Full stop." 
 
China on Thursday threatened to impose "counter-measures" on Sweden if the Culture Minister Amanda Lind goes ahead on Friday evening and hands out the Tucholsky Prize to the dissident Chinese writer Gui Minhai, who is currently imprisoned in China.
 
"We firmly oppose representatives of the Swedish government attending such an event, and if they decide to stick to what they are doing, we will have no choice but to take counter-measures," Chinese Ambassador Gui Congyou warned in an interview with Swedish Radio
 
"I believe some individuals in Sweden should not expect that when they hurt the interests and sentiments of China, things will just move on naturally." 
 
Lind is scheduled to hand over the prize on behalf of the free speech organization Swedish PEN at a ceremony in Stockholm at which Gui will be represented by an empty chair. 
 
On Friday, Lind described the situation as "serious". 
 
"We have conveyed to the the Chinese ambassador that our view remains that Gui Minhai should be released and that freedom of expression applies in Sweden," she said.
 
"This means that Swedish PEN should of course be able to give out this prize to whoever they like, without any pressure on them. And for me as Culture Minister, it means I should of course be present when it is handed out." 
 
Gui Congyou, China's ambassador to Sweden, at the Almedalen political festival last summer. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
 
Gui Minhai left China in 1988 to study for a doctorate at Gothenburg University, later becoming a Swedish citizen. He disappeared while on holiday in Thailand in 2015. A video, in which he confessed to committing "illegal business operations" was released by Chinese authorities three months later. 
 
Swedish Pen's chairman Jesper Bengtsson said the ambassador's threatening language would only worsen the dispute. 
 
"It just ratchets this up even more. I can only say that they seem very keen to get involved in what people think and believe in Sweden," he said.  
 
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PEN International on Thursday issued a statement in support of its Swedish wing, saying it was "appalled" that it had faced threats from the Chinese embassy. 
 
"This is not the first time that the Chinese regime has tried to intimidate those highlighting the egregious case of injustice against Gui Minhai," said PEN President Jennifer Clement.
 
"No matter what coercive measures the Chinese authorities employ, they cannot erase the facts of this case: Gui Minhai was kidnapped, disappeared for several months, forced into a televised confession and remains in prison today, simply for publishing books critical of the Chinese authorities." 
 
Before his arrest, Gui was a prolific writer and publisher of books critical of the Chinese government, operating through the Hong-Kong based publisher Causeway Bay Books. 
 
Sweden's foreign minister Ann Linde has earlier pushed back at China over its criticism of Swedish PEN's decision to award Gui the prize. 
 
"The Foreign Ministry has explained to the ambassador that there is a freedom of expression in Sweden," she said.  "Sweden's principle of freedom of expression guarantees Swedish PEN the right to freely and without influence award the prize to whomsoever they wish." 
 
The Tucholsky award is given by Swedish PEN to a writer or publisher who faces persecution or has been forced into exile. Previous recipients have included Nasrin Sotoudeh, Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen and Svetlana Alexievich. 
 
 
 
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