China releases, deports Swede held over rights group

By Christopher Bodeen ,AP

BEIJING — The mainland China authorities have released and deported a Swedish man it accused of training and funding unlicensed lawyers in the country, after he made an extraordinary confession broadcast on state television.

Swedish Embassy spokesman Sebastian Magnusson confirmed Tuesday that Peter Dahlin had left mainland China, but was unable to provide further details.

Dahlin, co-founder of China Urgent Action Working Group, was featured in a 10-minute segment on state broadcaster CCTV last week in which he confessed to helping unlicensed lawyers take on cases against the mainland authorities “in clear violation of the law.”

He was arrested Jan. 3 on his way to Beijing’s international airport, becoming the first foreigner to become entangled in a wide-ranging crackdown on the mainland’s increasingly assertive legal rights movement.

Another co-founder of the group, Michael Caster, who lives in the United States, tweeted that Dahlin’s girlfriend Pan Jinling had also been released from detention but remained in mainland China.

Mainland China often releases people without trial on condition that they not speak publicly about their case. That often comes with the explicit or implied threat of being returned to detention or having trouble visited on family members or acquaintances.

Mainland external affairs agency spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Dahlin had been expelled on Monday after being suspected of financing criminal activity that jeopardized national security.

“After questioning, (Dahlin) confessed to his suspected criminal activity,” Hua told reporters at a daily briefing Tuesday.

The Swedish Embassy issued a statement Friday in which it expressed “deep concern” over the cases against Dahlin and another detained Swedish national, Gui Minhai.

“Many unanswered questions remain in both cases and we continue to request clarification of what our citizens are being accused of and the formal status of their arrests,” the statement said.

In its broadcast, CCTV said Dahlin had established an activist organization in Hong Kong with the help of employees of the human rights-focused Fengrui Law Firm in Beijing, whose lawyers have been charged with subverting state power.

Dahlin’s group called the confession “apparently forced” and rejected accusations that the group manufactured or escalated conflicts inside mainland China.

The group says it has been working since 2009 to help advance the rule of law by organizing training programs by lawyers for rights defenders focusing on land rights and administrative law. It also releases practical guides on the mainland Chinese legal system.