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5th Aug 2021

China arrests of European activists is 'worrying trend'

The EU envoy to China expressed "deep concern" on Wednesday (20 January) about the treatment of EU nationals involved in human rights activities in China.

China's crackdown on human right activists, lawyers and journalists has intensified recently and even EU citizens are now targeted.

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  • Swedish activist Peter Dahlin on Chinese TV. 'We do hope it's not representing the new normal,' an EU envoy said

"We do see an extremely worrying trend," Hans Dietmar Schweisgut, the EU ambassador to China, told reporters in Beijing.

On Tuesday Peter Dahlin, a Swedish co-founder of the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group, a humans rights NGO, appeared on Chinese CCTV channel and confessed "he violated China's law through [his] activity here".

In a show reminiscent of Maoist forced self-criticism, 35-year old Dahlin went on to say: "I have hurt the feelings of the Chinese people. I apologise sincerely for this and I am very sorry that this ever happened."

Chinese authorities had earlier said they had "smashed an illegal organisation that sponsored activities jeopardising China's national security", according to the official news agency Xinhua.

'Voluntary' surrenders

Dahlin and another activist were accused of operating illegally and receiving "unregulated huge sums of money" from abroad.

Dahlin's TV appearance comes two days after another Swedish national was also seen confessing his "crime".

Gui Minhai, a 51-year-old Hong Kong publisher of books critical of the Chinese government, vanished in October during a holiday in Thailand.

Gui, who was born in China but has Swedish citizenship, was shown on Sunday on CCTV claiming he had handed himself to police in October for his involvement in a hit and run accident in 2003.

“It is my own choice to come back and to confess my crime. It is nobody else’s business," he said.

Another Hong Kong publisher, British citizen Lee Bo, also disappeared in October. Hong Kong authorities said last week he was in China after a "voluntary" surrender to the police.

In December, the correspondent for the French weekly L'Obs, Ursula Gauthier, was expelled for writing articles about terrorism in the Xinjiang province.

“Gauthier failed to apologise to the Chinese people for her wrong words and it is no longer suitable for her to work in China,” a Chinese spokesman said at the time.

'New normal'?

"Clearly, I cannot but once again say that we are deeply concerned about all those issues,” EU ambassador Schweisgut said on Wednesday.

“We do hope it’s not representing the new normal yet … all these cases are taken extremely seriously,” he said.

Schweisgut added that the EU wanted to be able to "solve those issues in the framework of human rights dialogues".

“We have come out very clearly as a question of principle, and we will continue to do so. This is something where we will never be willing and able to compromise our values," he said.

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