A Chinese court has sentenced Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai to 10 years in jail for “illegally providing intelligence overseas”.
Mr Gui, who holds Swedish citizenship, has been in and out of Chinese detention since 2015, when he went missing during a holiday in Thailand.
He is known to have previously published books on the personal lives of Chinese Communist Party members.
Rights groups condemned the “harsh sentence” and called for his release.
He was one of five booksellers that owned a small bookstore in Hong Kong. In 2015, all five went missing at different times but were later freed – only Mr Gui remains in Chinese detention.
The Ningbo Intermediate People’s Court said in a statement on Monday that he had also been stripped of political rights for five years. It said that he would not appeal the verdict.
The court added that his Chinese citizenship had been reinstated in 2018. It is not clear if Mr Gui has given up his Swedish citizenship but China does not recognise dual citizenship.
Human rights group Amnesty International on Tuesday called for Mr Gui to be released “immediately”.
“The deplorable verdict and shockingly harsh sentence… on completely unsubstantiated charges demonstrates yet again that the Chinese authorities are not letting the coronavirus crisis distract them from repressing dissidents,” Amnesty International’s China Researcher Patrick Poon said in a statement to the BBC.
“Unless China can provide concrete, credible and admissible evidence of the crimes Gui has allegedly committed, he must be released immediately and unconditionally.”
A forced confession?
Mr Gui first made headlines in 2015 when he vanished from Thailand and resurfaced in China.
After his disappearance, there were allegations that he had been abducted by Chinese agents across international borders in an extrajudicial process.
Chinese officials, however, say Mr Gui and the four other men all went to China voluntarily.
The bookseller ultimately confessed to being involved in a fatal traffic accident more than a decade earlier – a confession supporters say was forced.
He served two years in prison but he was arrested months after his release while he was travelling to the Chinese capital of Beijing with two Swedish diplomats.
China later released a video interview featuring Mr Gui. In it, he accused Sweden of “sensationalising” his case.
Human rights groups including Amnesty International warned that the interview had the hallmarks of a forced confession.
It is not uncommon for Chinese criminal suspects to appear in “confessional” videos.