China detains Swedish legal aid campaigner

Peter Dahlin taken custody as part of a wider crackdown on activists

Chinese authorities have detained a Swedish human rights worker who worked on legal aid on suspicion of endangering state security, the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group said.

Peter Dahlin was taken into custody on January 4th as part of a wider crackdown on human rights activists in China. He was picked up a day earlier as he travelled to Beijing airport for a flight to Thailand, Urgent Action said in a statement. His girlfriend, a Chinese national, has also disappeared.

“According to Chinese authorities, Peter was detained on January 4 on charges of endangering state security. These charges are baseless,” the group said.

Urgent Action is a group of lawyers, professors and political professionals “working to promote the development of the rule of law and human rights through training and the support of public interest litigation.” It runs training programmes for human rights defenders and “Peter’s ongoing detention for supporting legal aid in China makes a mockery of President Xi Jinping’s stated commitments to the rule of law,” said organisation spokesman Michael Caster.


The Swedish foreign ministry confirmed that Mr Dahlin (35) had been detained. The Swedish embassy has been in touch with Chinese authorities about meeting the detained man.

Urgent Action said it was concerned that Mr Dahlin was not getting adequate treatment for Addison’s Disease, a rare defect of the adrenal gland. So far they had received only verbal assurances from the Chinese authorities that he was getting treatment.

Hong Lei, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, told a regular government news briefing that he did not know about Mr Dahlin’s detention.

The Chinese government is currently cracking down on human rights lawyers and activists nationwide. According to UN figures, 200 lawyers have been rounded up in a nationwide crackdown since July, and at least 25 of them remain in detention, including prominent lawyer-activists Wang Yu, Li Heping and Zhang Kai.

While the crackdown is mostly aimed at Chinese dissidents, some foreigners have also been caught in the dragnet.

Last year, a Canadian Christian who ran a coffee shop with his wife along the sensitive border with North Korea, was charged on suspicion of “stealing and prying into state secrets”.

“Peter must be granted direct contact with the Swedish Embassy and his family without delay. The Chinese authorities must immediately release Peter from detention and drop all charges against him,” Mr Caster said.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing