Peter Dahlin knows well the darkest side of China. Not surprisingly, he founded the activist organization China Action to contribute to the legal battle against different injustices suffered in the Asian giant. He worked with local lawyers in social and political litigation, until he himself fell victim to the repression campaign known as 709, which resulted in the arrest of more than 300 lawyers and activists. Dahlin was arrested in January 2016 while trying to leave the country. Then a nightmare began that only ended after the recording of a forced confession that was later broadcast by the official CCTV network. Now he has settled in Madrid, from where he directs Safeguard Defenders.
– What exactly happened to you in China?
– Several of the people I worked with were arrested and disappeared into the ‘black jail’ system during the raid on July 9, 2015, so I was already prepared to be attacked. They arrested me along with my girlfriend and other colleagues, and several of us were forced to record a false confession that was read on CCTV.
– Why did you agree to say that your treatment was fair and that you had violated the law?
– 99.96% of cases in China end in conviction. That means that if you are arrested, you will end up in jail. The only thing you can do to reduce your sentence is confess. Furthermore, for the most part, people give in after prolonged periods of psychological and physical torture. In the case of lawyer Wang Yu, who refused, they even tortured his teenage son. I, as a foreigner and human rights activist, did not suffer it. But my girlfriend was committed to the same secret jail and the agents told me they would hold her incommunicado until I got out, which was eloquent enough.
– After their deportation, there has been a significant increase in forced confessions.
– Yes, it has become a common tactic to intimidate lawyers and journalists. Some have even been broadcast internationally through CGTN – the global branch of Chinese state television. That is why we decided to contact victims of these confessions, both Chinese and foreigners, and we were able to prove that it is a strategy of political terror that violates human rights. In cases like Simon Cheng, who worked at the UK Consulate in Hong Kong, the Chinese government even uses these foreigners’ confessions to issue warnings to other countries.
“They threatened to leave my girlfriend incommunicado until I got out of jail”
“In the long term, China may pose a threat to democratic systems”
– Now there are two Canadians accused of espionage in a case that pits both countries. Do you think they will also appear confessing?
– We are progressing little by little, and I believe that the two Michaels – Kovrig and Spavor – have not appeared on television thanks to the investigation we launched in the United Kingdom with the case of Peter Humphrey. China is investing billions of euros in the media to spread its worldview and if it sees these forced confessions causing problems for it, it will avoid them.
– The United Kingdom has withdrawn the license from CGTN, and that has caused 32 European countries -including Spain- to stop issuing it. On what have they based their case?
– We have worked with four complaints. We begin with the forced confessions of three people, because the regulations make it clear that the channels must abide by the European Convention on Human Rights. And issuing confessions that have been obtained through torture before the trial has taken place is a clear violation. We were hoping to win that case. However, the one that has prospered is the fourth, based on the prohibition that a chain belongs to a political party. And it has been easy to prove that CCTV and CGTN are controlled by the Communist Party.
– Many accuse you of being an anti-Chinese agent. What is your goal, to leave China without a voice in the West?
– We do not want to eliminate international CCTV services, because we believe that the press, even if it is propaganda, has the right to operate under equal conditions within the legal framework. The objective is to end their violations of Human Rights and to stop them participating in the forced extraction of these confessions. They will continue to operate with impunity in China, but we must prevent them from doing so in the rest of the world as well.
– Do you consider China a danger to democratic systems?
– In the short and medium term, I don’t think it is a threat like the USSR was. In the long run, however, it can be. Its economic power makes many western countries put aside their values. It happens despite the fact that we know it is an illusion, and that, in many cases, investments and trade are not so relevant. Spain is a good example of this. The danger is that we condone China’s violations to make money with a modern neo-fascist dictatorship that is trying to divide the European Union and rewrite international rules.