WATCH: Swedish Rights Activist Set Free From China After Confession

January 26, 2016 Updated: January 28, 2016

BEIJING—The Chinese regime has released and deported a Swedish man it accused of training and funding unlicensed lawyers in the country, after he made an extraordinary confession broadcast on state television.

Swedish Embassy spokesman Sebastian Magnusson confirmed on Jan. 26 that Peter Dahlin had left China, but was unable to provide further details.

Dahlin, co-founder of China Urgent Action Working Group, was featured in a 10-minute segment on state broadcaster CCTV last week in which he confessed to helping unlicensed lawyers take on cases against the communist regime. 

He was arrested Jan. 3 on his way to Beijing’s international airport, becoming the first foreigner to become entangled in a wide-ranging crackdown on the country’s increasingly assertive legal rights movement.

Another co-founder of the group, Michael Caster, who lives in the United States, tweeted that Dahlin’s girlfriend Pan Jinling had also been released from detention but remained in China.

The Chinese regime often releases people without trial on condition that they not speak publicly about their case. That often comes with the explicit or implied threat of being returned to detention or having trouble visited on family members or acquaintances.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Dahlin had been expelled on Jan. 25 after being suspected of financing criminal activity that jeopardized national security.

“After questioning, (Dahlin) confessed to his suspected criminal activity,” Hua told reporters at a daily briefing on Jan. 26.

The Swedish Embassy issued a statement on Jan. 22 in which it expressed “deep concern” over the cases against Dahlin and another detained Swedish national, Gui Minhai.

“Many unanswered questions remain in both cases and we continue to request clarification of what our citizens are being accused of and the formal status of their arrests,” the statement said.

In its broadcast, CCTV said Dahlin had established an activist organization in Hong Kong with the help of employees of the human rights-focused Fengrui Law Firm in Beijing, whose lawyers have been charged with subverting state power. This charge, Chinese human rights lawyers say, is a convenient way for the Chinese regime to deal with those it considers potential political challengers. 

Dahlin’s group called the confession “apparently forced” and rejected accusations that the group manufactured or escalated conflicts inside China.

The 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.

In this image made from undated video released by China Central Television (CCTV), Peter Dahlin, a Swedish co-founder of a human rights group, speaks on camera in an unknown location. Chinese state television has on late on Jan. 19, 2016, and early Wednesday, Jan. 20, aired a confession made by Dahlin, who said he had trained and funded unlicensed lawyers in China to take on cases against the government "in clear violation of the law." (CCTV via AP Video)
Peter Dahlin in an unknown location. Chinese state television has on late on Jan. 19, 2016, and early Wednesday, Jan. 20, aired a confession made by Dahlin, who said he had trained and funded unlicensed lawyers in China to take on cases against the government “in clear violation of the law.” (CCTV via AP Video)

The Chinese regime has aggressively pursued those attempting to use the legal system to assert basic rights, framing their advocacy as a challenge to state security. That campaign appears to have intensified over the past year.

Hundreds of lawyers have been rounded up and accused of stirring up hostility toward the government and manufacturing cases to enrich themselves.

Dahlin’s group was not legally permitted to operate in mainland China. CCTV said it accepted foreign funding and paid lawyers and petitioners within China, who provided negative information in order to tarnish the country’s image.

In the CCTV program, Dahlin said the people his group supported had “gone on to do acts in clear violation of the law.” He apologized for hurting “the Chinese government and Chinese people.”

Xinhua News Agency, the official regime mouthpiece, cited witnesses as saying Dahlin had been planted by “Western anti-China forces” to gather negative information about China and fan opposition to the ruling party.

Gui, the other detained Swede, is a Hong Kong-based publisher of sensitive books banned on the mainland who disappeared in October from his apartment in Pattaya, a Thai beach resort.

He also reappeared last week on CCTV, saying he returned to China to turn himself in for an old crime. His friends insist Gui was forcibly taken away.

The Chinese regime has since 2013 frequently used televised confessions of dissidents and activists on state TV to sway public opinion against them ahead of their trials. At least 18 such confessions have been made by high-profile activists, bloggers and journalists.

The confessions have brought calls from journalists’ and human rights organizations for sanctions against CCTV, which has been pushing hard to build its brand internationally to compete with CNN and the BBC.

“By knowingly peddling lies and statements (that) were presumably obtained under duress, CCTV and Xinhua (News Agency) become mass propaganda weapons and cease de facto to be news media,” Benjamin Ismail, the head of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders’ Asia-Pacific desk said in a statement on Jan. 21.