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Rights Groups Denounce China's Arrest of Swedish NGO Worker


Chinese authorities have arrested and accused a Swedish national of operating an unlicensed rights group in China.

The detainee, Peter Dablin, 35, is a co-founder of the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group, which was established in 2009 to promote the development of the rule of law and human rights through training and the support of public interest litigation in China, according to the group's statement.

The group has organized training sessions for rights defenders from expert lawyers and supported "barefoot" lawyers who provide pro-bono legal aid to grassroots victims of rights violations, from demolition and eviction to arbitrary detention, the statement added.

Chinese authorities accuse the group of representing an "anti-China force" and of "instigating others to interfere in sensitive legal cases.”

Rights groups say Chinese authorities are using the case to send a warning message to outspoken rights activists, including non-government organization workers.

According to the group, Dablin, who is now charged with endangering state security, was arrested on his way to Beijing Capital Airport on January 3, before he was scheduled to fly to Thailand.

Only after a nearly two week, secret detention was Dablin allowed direct communication with the Embassy of Sweden in Beijing. The Embassy visited the man on January 16. "He is feeling well considering the circumstances and he has access to the medication he needs,” said Sebastian Magnusson, information officer of the embassy, adding that his embassy is working “intensively” on the matter.

Call for transparency

Hans Dietmar Schweisgut, the European Union Ambassador to China, Wednesday called for full transparency and access on the matter. He said the European Union would continue to raise its concerns over the fate of its citizens, including disappeared booksellers in Hong Kong. He said the EU will give full support to efforts by the embassies to safeguard rights of the nationals involved.

“We cannot and will not remain silent ... This is something that we will never be willing and able to compromise our values on,” the ambassador told reporters on Wednesday.

State-run CCTV broadcast a lengthy report on Tuesday, featuring a casually dressed Dablin and two unidentified members admitting to wrongdoings.

“I violated Chinese laws through my activities here. I have 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 ever happened,” Dablin said.

He said his group had paid and supported rights lawyers Wang Quanzhang and rights activist Xing Qingxian, the latter of whom brought the son of detained rights lawyer Wang Yu across international borders.

Two other unidentified members appeared to accuse the group of having “hired and trained others to gather, fabricate and distort information about the human rights condition in China for anti-China forces in the West.”

Legal representation

It wasn’t possible to verify if they were speaking of their own free will or if they have access to legal representation.

The group’s spokesperson, Michael Caster, insisted all charges against Dablin were “baseless.”

Caster said Dablin’s detention “makes a mockery of President Xi Jinping’s stated commitments to the rule of law,” adding the detention came during
a six-month-long crackdown on the country’s over 300 rights lawyers.

Maya Wang, Hong Kong-based researcher of Human Rights Watch, said Dablin’s detention reflected China’s stern attempt to criminalize all rights defenders.

“To label a group of human rights lawyers and funders as subversive is essentially saying that anyone taking up the tool of the law to defend ordinary people’s rights is committing an act of subversion,” she said.

China is drafting its Foreign NGO Management Law, which proposes to put the management of foreign NGOs under the police, instead of the civil affairs division.