The case of Hong Kong bookseller who mysteriously went missing last October took another strange twist this week when he suddenly reappeared on Chinese state television and tearfully confessed to a fatal hit-and-run incident.
Gui Minhai, 51, is one of five men linked to book publisher Mighty Current who have gone missing in recent months. The publisher is known for producing books banned by the government in mainland China, fueling speculation that he and his colleagues were secretly abducted by Chinese authorities who were displeased with their work.
Gui, a mainland-born Swedish national who co-owns Mighty Current, disappeared last October while he was vacationing in Thailand. His hit-and-run confession was broadcast Sunday. "I am taking my legal responsibilities, and am willing to accept any punishment," Gui said, describing an incident that allegedly killed a young woman in the city of Ningbo in December 2003, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua.
Gui said he turned himself over to Chinese authorities in October out of a sense of guilt.
"It is my own choice to come back and to confess my crime," he said. "It is nobody else's business. I need to take responsibility for it myself. Although I now hold the Swedish citizenship, deep down I still think of myself as a Chinese. My roots are in China. I hope the Swedish authorities would respect my personal choices, my rights and my privacy, and allow myself to deal with my own issues."
On Monday, Gui's daughter said she believed her father had been abducted.
— CCTVNEWS (@cctvnews) January 17, 2016
"I still think it is suspicious that he and his associates went missing," Angela Gui told the Guardian in a phone interview. "Even if [the confession] is true, I don't think that is why he is there."
Around the same time that Gui disappeared, three other men connected with his publishing company also went missing. Lui Bo, Mighty Current's general manager, Cheung Jiping, the company's business manager, and Lam Wing-kei, who manages the bookstore, each disappeared separately in late October after they visited Shenzhen, a city on the Chinese mainland across from Hong Kong.
A fifth man, Lee Bo, who is a major shareholder in Causeway Bay Books, which is run by Mighty Current, disappeared later in January. Before he went missing, Lee, a British passport holder, was reportedly preparing to launch a book about Chinese President Xi Jinping's love life, focusing on one of his former girlfriends. A week later, a vague letter purportedly written by Lee was faxed to his wife. In it, Lee reportedly told her that "all is normal," and that he was on the mainland cooperating with an official investigation. The letter prompted Lee's wife to withdraw a police report, but his current whereabouts remain unknown.
The disappearances have stoked fears of mainland Chinese authorities using shadowy tactics that erode the "one country, two systems" formula under which Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 after 150 years of British rule. Britain handed the global financial hub back to China under an agreement that its core liberties and way of life — including freedom of speech and an independent judiciary — continue for 50 years.
The mystery surrounding the cases has also sparked protests in Hong Kong and sustained international media attention. Some bookstores in Hong Kong have begun pulling literature banned in mainland China from shelves.
Britain's foreign secretary weighed in on the disappearances during a visit to Beijing in early January, saying any abduction of people from Hong Kong to face charges elsewhere would be an "egregious breach" of Beijing's promises about the former British colony.
Over the weekend, a spokesperson for the Swedish embassy in Beijing said it was "aware of the information published in news media" about Gui, and said it would "continue to seek clarifications with the Chinese authorities," but refused to comment further.
Follow VICE News on Twitter: @vicenews