STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Swedish double Olympic speed skating champion Nils van der Poel has donated one of his gold medals to Chinese-born Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, who is imprisoned in China.
The skater, who won the 5,000m event at the Beijing Olympics and then broke the world record adding the 10,000m gold, handed the medal to Gui’s daughter Angela on Thursday to raise awareness of the human rights situation in China, according to a statement released by Amnesty International.
“I want human rights abuses in China to be reduced and Gui Minhai to be released. It is a lot to ask, but it is the only reasonable thing to wish for,” Van der Poel said.
Born in China but holding Swedish citizenship, author and bookseller Gui was sentenced to 10 years in prison in February 2020 for illegally providing intelligence overseas.
He had previously lived in Hong Kong and sold books critical of the Chinese political leadership, and his arrest and conviction led to tensions with Sweden.
Van der Poel said that the recent Beijing Winter Olympics were exploited to whitewash human rights issues.
“I do not speak for all Olympians, but I and my friends in sports have spent our lives striving for the top and the Chinese government uses our dreams as a political weapon to legitimize its regime. It became personal for me and I felt used,” he said.
Van der Poel handed over the Olympic medal to Gui’s daughter Angela on Thursday, the statement said.
“Of course, I would have preferred that this was not needed. But it feels very good that the medal can represent solidarity for political prisoners like my father, and the countless other victims of Beijing’s human rights abuses,” Angela Gui said.
The Swedish government added its voice to the campaign.
“Two years ago, China announced the sentencing of Swedish and EU citizen Gui Minhai to 10 years imprisonment. We continue to demand consular access and strongly insist that Gui Minhai is released and able to reunite with his daughter and family,” Swedish foreign minister Anna Linde said on Twitter.
The Chinese Embassy in Stockholm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(This story has been refiled to correct paragraph 4 to make clear Gui was sentenced in February 2020 and not 2022)
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by Christian Radnedge)