World

Swedish rights activist Peter Dahlin 'confesses' on Chinese TV

Beijing: A Swedish rights activist detained in China under suspicion of endangering state security was the second Swedish citizen to be paraded on state television this week making an apology and apparent confession.

Peter Dahlin, 35, is the co-founder of the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group, a non-governmental organisation which provides training for lawyers and legal aid. He was detained at Beijing's international airport on January 3 while preparing to board a flight en route to Thailand, and is now under residential surveillance. His girlfriend, a Chinese national, has also been missing since the day he was detained.

Peter Dahlin on China's CCTV "confessing".
Peter Dahlin on China's CCTV "confessing". Photo: Supplied

The eight-minute news report, aired late on Tuesday on state broadcaster CCTV, is the latest in a spate of televised confessions popularised under President Xi Jinping, but condemned by international rights groups for circumventing due legal process and the possibility of testimony being obtained under duress.

"I've violated Chinese law through my activities here, I've caused harm to the Chinese government," Mr Dahlin, sporting a light beard and dressed in a grey sweater, said in the televised confession. "I've caused hurt to the Chinese people, I apologise sincerely for this."

Peter Dahlin, co-founder of the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group.
Peter Dahlin, co-founder of the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group. Photo: Supplied

The Chinese state media reports also highlighted Mr Dahlin's ties to Fengrui law firm, whose staff, including Wang Yu, have been high-profile targets of a widespread crackdown on rights lawyers.

The reports said Mr Dahlin had admitted to compiling reports without "real or complete facts, and deliberately escalated conflicts and dispute to "instigate people to confront the government and produce mass incidents".

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Mr Dahlin's case is marked for being a relatively rare detention of a foreign NGO worker, and is likely to have a particularly chilling effect on foreign NGOs already anxious over proposed new laws governing their operation.

It also comes amid troubling signs that China's security apparatus is increasingly going to greater lengths not just to crack down on dissent, but in feeding public sentiment that "foreign hostile forces" are working in concert to undermine stability in the country.

"I have now deeply understood that this organisation is actually an anti-China organisation, setting up a bridgehead in China," Wang Quanzhang, a partner of Mr Dahlin's at China Urgent Action who has also been detained, said in the CCTV report.

"It's absurd to claim Peter was engaged in malicious efforts to attack or discredit China," Michael Caster of Chinese Urgent Action Working Group said. "To purport that Peter was 'planted' in China by foreign forces is part of a trend by Chinese authorities blaming hostile foreign forces for domestic grievances."

Gui Minhai, a naturalised Swedish citizen made a televised confession on Sunday. Gui and British citizen Lee Bo, both Hong Kong publishers critical of the Communist Party , disappeared in Thailand and Hong Kong respectively, prompting fears that Chinese security agents operating overseas may have been involved. Both have resurfaced under detention in mainland China.

Chinese journalist Gao Yu was detained in 2014 for allegedly leaking the so-called Document Number Nine, an internal Communist Party paper warning against the infiltration of western values including constitutional democracy, press freedom and human rights for fear they undermined the party's control over Chinese society.

French journalist Ursula Gauthier was expelled from China late last year after writing a report critical of the government's policies in the far-western Xinjiang region.

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