During human rights activist Peter Dahlin’s 23-day detention in China, he lived in a secret jail, faced interrogation about his NGO activities and confessed according to a script.
The Swedish activist had co-founded an NGO named the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group, which was set up to use Chinese law to help empower Chinese citizens, according to The Guardian. In January, Xinhua reported that he was arrested because his organization “[jeopardized] China’s national security” and had workers “gather, fabricate and distort information about China.” Dahlin was later released and expelled after making a televised “confession” for his crimes.
Recently, he shared his experiences of being held by China’s Ministry of State Security with The New York Times — only after making sure that his Chinese friends were safe from retaliation. He described that in the unmarked detention center, he was interrogated in long sessions about possible connections to an organization supporting past pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and other illegal activities. After Dahlin denied connections to them, the officers tried to find out how NGOs in China work and how international funding works. “They’re basically trying to understand this field so they can counter it,” he said.
As for the broadcasted confession, it was all scripted. Dahlin cooperated in hopes of expediting his deportation and getting his Chinese girlfriend released, but he refused to call three of his associates “criminals.” Part of his statement read: “I have been given good food, plenty of sleep and I have suffered no mistreatments of any kind.” However, he told The New York Times that the officers attempted to deprive him of sleep by keeping fluorescent lights on at night, but stopped after he told them that this constitutes torture under international conventions. He did not get beaten, unlike one of his colleagues.
Two days after the confession, he was sent to the airport and escorted to a plane to Stockholm under medical parole. The officers were nice enough to kennel his cats and get him first-class tickets, though it was using Dahlin’s own money. He was barred from entering China again for 10 years.
With help from the Swedish government, Dahlin can perhaps by considered lucky compared to other local human rights activists who faced longer jail sentences.
By Amy Yang