China says detained Swedish NGO worker endangered state security

A Swedish NGO worker was detained in China because his activities to fund and support human rights lawyers endangered national security, Chinese state media said late Tuesday.

Peter Dahlin's detention since January 3 was part of a police operation to "smash [an] illegal organization jeopardizing China's national security," the official Xinhua news agency said.

State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) also aired footage of Dahlin on Tuesday night that Amnesty International described as a "forced confession."

"I violated Chinese law through my activities here," said Dahlin, the co-founder of the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group.

"I caused harm to the Chinese government. I have hurt the feelings of the Chinese people. I apologize sincerely for this and I am very sorry that this has happened,” he was shown saying.

Dahlin's group allegedly trained lawyers and petitioners to "gather, distort, exaggerate and even fabricate negative information about China," Xinhua reported.

Dahlin's detention, under a procedure known as "designated residential surveillance," has provoked outrage among international human rights groups and had a chilling effect among foreign NGO workers in China, many of whom have not dared to publicly speak about the case.

"It is very disturbing that they can take someone and put him into a form of secret detention with no access to lawyers and then produce this information to put on state media," said William Nee, a Hong Kong-based China researcher for Amnesty International.

In recent years, there have been several high-profile cases in which Chinese citizens who made forced confessions after being tortured were exonerated after years of detention, and even after being executed. 

It is unclear whether Dahlin received any ill treatment in detention. Dahlin said in the CCTV video that he has had adequate food and rest and suffered no mistreatment.

Prosecutors in China rely heavily on confessions rather than evidence, a Human Rights Watch report said. In 2013, just 825 out of an estimated 1,160,000 defendants were acquitted, the report said.

Dahlin's arrest came amid an ongoing crackdown on the country's human rights activists and lawyers.

Since last summer, at least 316 human rights lawyers and activists from across China have been detained, summoned by police or have disappeared, according to the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.

Of those detained, the majority have since been released, but some lawyers and non-lawyers were still being held in undisclosed locations, according to Amnesty.

Last update: Wed, 20/01/2016 - 09:29

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