Photographer: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

China Accuses Swedish Legal Advocate of Risking Security

Updated on
  • Dahlin `confesses' on state TV to compiling false reports
  • 'It looks like Dahlin has gotten the whole treatment'

China accused the Swedish co-founder of a legal advocacy group in Beijing of running an illegal organization whose activities jeopardized national security, state media said.

Peter Jesper Dahlin, who was detained Jan. 3, was shown on state television Tuesday admitting to illegal activities that hurt the Chinese government. He said he wrote reports without the "real or full facts," the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing a statement from the Chinese police and national security authorities. 

“I violated Chinese law through my activities here,” Dahlin said in the video, which aired on China Central Television. “I have caused harm to the Chinese government and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people. I apologize sincerely for this.”

Televised confessions have become a common part of China’s crackdown on lawyers, journalists, rights workers and other activists under President Xi Jinping. Dahlin, who was accused of operating an unregistered “Chinese emergency rights group,” was linked to a government investigation into lawyers and activists accused last year of trying to sway cases as part of a "rights-defense" movement, Xinhua said.

“It looks like Dahlin has gotten the whole treatment,” said William Nee, a Hong Kong-based China researcher for Amnesty International. Pretrial confessions are now being used against NGO workers, he said.

‘Residential Surveillance’

Dahlin was placed under “residential surveillance,” which Nee said meant he could be put someplace like a hotel and detained for up to six months, with no oversight and no access to lawyers. “I have been given good food, plenty of sleep and I have suffered no mistreatment of any kind," Dahlin said in the video.

“Whatever Peter did or did not say cannot be fully verified as long as he is being held in residential surveillance,” China Urgent Action Working Group, the NGO Dahlin co-founded, said in a statement. “Accusations of criminal activity involving rights lawyers only show that the authorities consider the promotion of human rights through public interest litigation to be a criminal activity.”

Swedish Nationals

The Swedish Foreign Office, who wouldn’t confirm Dahlin’s identity, said that diplomats
visited him on Jan 16. He’s been given access to the daily medication he needs and is “feeling well under the circumstances,” said Karin Nylund, a spokeswoman.

Dahlin is the second Swedish national to issue a televised confession this week in China. Gui Minhai, who wrote books critical of the ruling Communist Party and vanished from his home in Thailand in October, said on television Sunday that he had turned himself over to Chinese police for a 2004 drunk-driving accident. He asked Swedish authorities to respect his decision to turn himself in.

Since July 9, 248 lawyers and activists have been targeted in China, with 23 still missing or in custody, and 12 formally arrested, as of Monday, according to Amnesty International.

Rule of Law

The China Urgent Action Working Group "works to strengthen Chinese rule of law by encouraging improved policy” by arranging assistance for rights defenders, according to its website. While Xi made "upholding the rule of law" a priority of the ruling Communist Party, his government has come under increasing criticism for its use of confessions, secret detentions and brief, closed trials.

Dahlin’s rights group hired and trained others to gather, fabricate and distort information and provided human rights reports to overseas organizations, Xinhua said. The report said Dahlin confessed that all of the reports were compiled via online research and could not reflect reality. “Not seeing the cases myself, I cannot guarantee they are true,” Xinhua quoted Dahlin as saying.

The report said Dahlin was connected to the Fengrui Law Firm, which has been a target of the recent crackdown. He and a Fengrui lawyer, Wang Quanzhang, founded a Hong Kong company in 2009 that is the parent of Dahlin’s mainland group, Xinhua said. Dahlin’s organization gave funds to an activist accused of helping the son of another Fengrui lawyer illegally cross the border and leave China, the report said.

Foreign Donations

“Certain people who we have supported at one time or another have gone on to do acts in clear violation of the law,” Dahlin said, according to the video. “It also means that we as an organization become criminally liable for the things that they have done.”

Wang was charged earlier this month with subversion of state power and was not reachable. Representatives for the Fengrui Law Firm couldn’t reached for comment. Three calls to the firms registered phone number went unanswered.

Dahlin’s organization received nearly 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) from overseas in recent years, with half of that money “pocketed by Dahlin and his men” through false salary receipts, Xinhua said. “If I give out salaries strictly according to the receipts, there will be no profits for me," Xinhua quoted Dahlin as saying.

“To purport that Peter was ’planted’ in China by foreign forces is part of a trend by Chinese authorities of blaming ’hostile foreign forces’ for domestic grievances,” the China Urgent Action statement said.