China accuses detained Swede of fabricating information

BEIJING (Reuters) - The Chinese government has accused a detained Swedish national of operating an unlicensed rights group in China, which “fabricated and distorted” information about the country and organized others to “interfere” in sensitive cases.

Beijing confirmed earlier this month that authorities had detained Peter Dahlin, the 35-year-old co-founder of the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group, on suspicion of endangering state security. The organization worked with Chinese human rights lawyers.

Chinese police and national security authorities said in a statement they had “smashed an illegal organization that sponsored activities jeopardizing China’s national security”. The statement was released via the official Xinhua news agency late on Tuesday.

China’s crackdown on human rights, as well as several cases involving European Union citizens detained in China, were issues of “grave concern”, said EU ambassador to China, Hans Dietmar Schweisgut.

“We wish to see full transparency and access,” Schweisgut said at a news conference, adding that the EU had raised its concerns with China.

Xinhua said Dahlin’s organization “hired and trained others to gather, fabricate and distort information about China”.

“It also organized others to interfere with sensitive cases, deliberately aggravating disputes and instigating public-government confrontations to create mass incidents,” it said, using the Chinese euphemism for protests.

Two other unidentified members of the organization said “Western anti-China forces had planted Dahlin and some other people in China to gather negative information for anti-China purposes such as smear campaigns”, it said.

Michael Caster, a spokesman for the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group, denounced the accusations against Dahlin. “It’s absurd to claim Peter was engaged in malicious efforts to attack or discredit China,” Caster said.

“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,” he said.

Xinhua said Dahlin had confessed that all of the reports on China’s human rights were “compiled via online research and could not reflect reality”.

“Not seeing some cases myself, I cannot guarantee they are true,” the report quoted him as saying.

Sweden’s embassy in Beijing said it continued to work “intensively” on the matter and that its diplomats had visited Dahlin on Saturday.

“He is feeling well considering the circumstances,” Gabriella Augustsson, head of public diplomacy for the Swedish embassy in Beijing, said in an email.

Dahlin suffers from Addison’s disease, a potentially life-threatening disease unless properly medicated daily, according to his organization.

Asked whether Dahlin had been threatened with a withdrawal of medication in order to secure a confession, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the Swede had seen doctors while in detention and received medication.

“China protects the legitimate rights of foreigners in China in accordance with the law,” Hong said at a daily news conference.

State television broadcast footage of a casually dressed Dahlin confessing to “hurting the feelings of the Chinese people”, although it was not possible to verify if he was speaking of his own free will.

The footage comes two days after a Swedish bookseller whose mysterious disappearance sparked fears he may have been abducted by Chinese agents said on state media that he had voluntarily turned himself in to the authorities over a fatal drink-driving offence more than a decade ago.

Critics say these accounts deprive the accused of the right to a fair trial.

It was not possible to reach Dahlin for comment and unclear whether he has a lawyer.

On Tuesday, Britain said it remains deeply concerned about Lee Bo, a British publisher of books critical of China’s leaders who went missing in Hong Kong and is pressing for information about his welfare.

Hong said he was “unclear” about Lee’s case, and declined further comment.

Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Paul Tait and Simon Cameron-Moore