BEIJING — A Swedish co-founder of a human rights group in China was detained because he is suspected of funding activities that endanger state security, Chinese state media said Tuesday.
The official Xinhua News Agency said Peter Dahlin collected negative information about China and trained unlicensed lawyers to stir up hostility toward the government. It said he has apologized.
“I was engaged in activities in violation of Chinese law while in China and hurt the Chinese government and Chinese people,” Xinhua quoted him as saying. “For this, I offer deep apologies.”
Dahlin’s group, the China Urgent Action Working Group, says he was detained on Jan. 3 on his way to Beijing’s main airport, where he planned to fly to Thailand.
His detention came amid a crackdown on rights lawyers who have sought to hold the government accountable and protect civic rights. Beijing says the lawyers engaged in improper activism that placed undue pressure on local courts.
The crackdown has drawn criticism from foreign law groups and governments, which have urged Beijing to abide by its promise to rule by law.
Xinhua said Dahlin worked with a lawyer from a Beijing law firm to set up an institute in Hong Kong, but that it operated without permission in mainland China.
It said the group accepted foreign funding to set up legal aid stations, and it trained and funded some lawyers and petitioners who in turn provided negative information about China.
By intervening in some sensitive cases with trained personnel, Dahlin’s group exacerbated conflicts that were not initially serious, encouraged the public to confront the government, and tried to create mass incidents, Xinhua said.
China has a huge number of petitioners who have unresolved complaints against local governments, often involving land seizures.
Dahlin’s 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 Chinese legal system.
It says it “has only ever advocated nonviolent, informed reliance on Chinese law,” and that Dahlin was “arbitrarily detained on spurious accusations.”
Endangering state security is a category in China’s criminal law that includes a number of offenses, including subversion of state power, separatism and espionage. The maximum sentence for some is the death penalty, although it also allows for foreigners to be deported.