China releases Swedish rights activist Peter Dahlin

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A Swedish activist who was detained in China on charges of damaging national security has been released and deported.

Peter Dahlin, 35, has been held since early January amid a crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists.

Last week he appeared on state media apparently confessing to breaking the law through his organisation’s support of local Chinese rights lawyers.

The Swedish embassy confirmed he had left China but gave no further details.

Its foreign minister welcomed Mr Dahlin’s release, but expressed concern about another Swede in Chinese detention.

‘Absurd’ confession

Mr Dahlin is the founder of Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (China Action), which describes itself as a legal aid organisation.

It provides assistance to uncertified “barefoot” lawyers who provide legal aid in rural areas, and provides direct help to disadvantaged groups and individuals who have experienced rights violations.

Gui Minhai on state tvImage copyrightAFP
Image captionSwedish national Gui Minhai also appeared on state TV in China, saying he had turned himself in

The group had said Mr Dahlin was detained on 4 January while en route to the airport for a flight to Thailand.

Last week, in a report on state television, Mr Dahlin appeared to confess to helping the Beijing law firm Fengrui – a number of the firm’s lawyers have recently been detained on charges of subversion.

Mr Dahlin said he had violated Chinese law, caused harm to the Chinese government and hurt the Chinese public.

China Action called the report “absurd” and said the confession appeared to be forced.

Analysis: John Sudworth, Beijing correspondent

China’s image as a sophisticated, rising superpower appears increasingly at odds with its toughening campaign against dissidents, activists and lawyers, and Peter Dahlin’s case is a good illustration of that widening gulf.

Mr Dahlin found himself first held in secret detention, then paraded on state TV making a confession that had all the hallmarks of one written for him, before finally finding himself accused of being a foreign agent engaged in a mission to smear China.

Friends and colleagues of his say the charge would be absurd, laughable even, were it not for the fact that it carries such serious consequences. But unlike Chinese nationals facing the same arbitrary justice, Mr Dahlin had the benefit of a foreign government working on his behalf.

His sudden release may be the result of that intense diplomatic effort or it may simply be that he has served China’s purpose in sending a chilling message to other foreign NGOs operating in China: engagement with Western organisations and values is fine in so far as they help boost China’s capitalist economy, but they will not be tolerated if they are perceived to threaten Communist Party rule.

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Chinese shares jump higher in volatile trade

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Chinese shares jumped higher on the first day of trade after a “circuit breaker” mechanism introduced to prevent sharp falls was lifted.

Regulators have stepped in after big losses in the mainland markets led trade to be suspended early for the first time on two occasions this week.

The central bank also set the yuan guidance rate higher to calm markets.

The sell-off came as weakening of the yuan led to worries that China’s economy was slowing more than expected.

The rest of Asia also recovered some losses after the dramatic plunge in Chinese shares had triggered a global sell-off.

Markets in Europe and the US made steep losses overnight after trading in the world’s second largest economy was closed within the first 30 minutes in the previous session, making it China’s shortest trading day on record.

Regulators step in

On Friday, the Shanghai Composite was up 2.2% to 3,194.08 as investor confidence grew on the new measures introduced by authorities to support the stock market.

Regulators suspended the “circuit breaker” rule late on Thursday. Analysts said it was creating more panic selling instead of calming sentiment.

“[The fall in markets] looks to have been exaggerated and driven more by fears and regulatory issues around the share market and currency rather than a renewed deterioration in economic indicators,” said Shane Oliver, investment strategist at AMP Capital.

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) set the daily yuan rate at 6.5646 – firmer than the previous day’s rate, ending eight days of weakening the currency to boost exports.

Investors were worried that China’s moves to weaken the yuan would spark a currency war in the region as other countries tried to remain competitive.

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