China says Swedish citizen detained on suspicion of acts detrimental to national security

BEIJING (REUTERS) - A Swedish man detained in China last week was suspected of acts detrimental to the country's national security, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday (Jan 13), in its first comments on the case against the foreign human rights and legal reform advocate.

Mr Peter Dahlin, the 35-year-old co-founder of the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group, was taken into custody on Jan 4, the organisation said.

"Swedish citizen Peter Dahlin has been put under coercive measures in accordance with the law in Beijing on suspicion of engaging in acts that harm China's national security," said ministry spokesman Hong Lei at a regular briefing. "This case is currently being investigated."

"Coercive measures" generally refers to detention.

Mr Hong added that China would allow for the Swedish Embassy to carry out consular work.

Mr Dahlin's organisation had previously said consular officials had been unable to communicate directly with Mr Dahlin, and the embassy said it was working to set up a meeting.

The group supports public interest lawyers, academics and others in China to promote rule of law, according to a statement from the organisation.

Mr Dahlin's detention comes amid a widening crackdown on rights lawyers and foreign groups working on legal reform. Rights groups say the crackdown aims to rein in dissent, but the Chinese government denies this.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry had confirmed a Swedish national had been detained, without naming Mr Dahlin or giving further details, citing privacy concerns.

China has detained or formally jailed several foreign nationals in recent years, sometimes due to their proximity to what it perceives as sensitive information.