Swedish activist Peter Dahlin 'confesses' on China TV

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Media captionThe BBC's Michael Bristow: "China often uses television confessions to show the law is being upheld"

A detained Swedish rights activist has appeared on Chinese state television apparently confessing to breaking the law through his group's activities.

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

State media said his organisation had received foreign funding to "instigate confrontations" and gather information to produce "distorted" reports.

The rights group has condemned and denied the government's allegations.

Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (China Action) called the report "absurd" and said the confession appeared to be forced.

Lawyer links

China Action, founded by Mr Dahlin, provides direct legal aid to people alleging human rights violations, and assistance to uncertified lawyers to provide legal aid in rural areas.

State media broadcast Mr Dahlin's statement in a TV report on Tuesday night, which included the apparent confessions of two Chinese members of the group.

The Xinhua news agency also published a report online saying police had broken up an "illegal organization jeopardizing China's national security".

Jo Floto, BBC News, Beijing - "Making a public example"

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images

Peter Dahlin was arrested at Beijing airport as he was about to leave the country. The authorities could easily have just cancelled his visa after he had gotten on a plane, and ended the activities of Mr Dahlin and his NGO - the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group.

Instead they have decided to make a very public example of a Westerner who had ventured into the area of human rights. In particular Chinese state media is accusing Mr Dahlin of being a "plant" directed by what are described as "Western anti-China forces."

In other words, Western governments, using Western money to pay Chinese lawyers to make trouble. Mr Dalhin's organisation denies this.

But the Chinese state appears to want to show that its current crackdown on lawyers is an attempt to root out a Western conspiracy against China. That's unlikely to be good news for Chinese lawyers, or Westerners working on human rights in China.

The reports quoted authorities as saying the organisation had received foreign funding to train others to fabricate reports on China's human rights situation, and also organised others to "aggravate disputes" and "create mass incidents".

Mr Dahlin's arrest happened around the same time as a crackdown on several lawyers with Beijing law firm Fengrui, who have been charged with subversion.

The report linked Mr Dahlin with the firm, saying he collaborated with detained lawyer Wang Quanzhang to set up a similar organisation in Hong Kong.

He is also accused of providing funding to activist Xing Qingxian, who reportedly helped the son of detained lawyer Wang Yu to leave the country.

Mr Dahlin appeared to confess to supporting the lawyers and giving them money in his interview.

"I violated Chinese law through my activities here, I've caused harm to the Chinese government, I've hurt the feelings of the Chinese people. I apologise sincerely for this and I'm very sorry that this ever happened," he said.

He added that he had been treated well. Activists had raised concerns about his detention as he suffers from Addison's Disease, a rare defect of the adrenal gland, which needs daily medication.

China Action released a statement condemning the "apparent forced confession" and denying the allegations.

"It's absurd to claim Peter was engaged in malicious efforts to attack or discredit China... it is equally absurd to accuse Peter or China Action of manufacturing or escalating conflicts inside of China," it said.

It added that Swedish embassy officials had met Mr Dahlin while he was in custody but "there are still many questions unanswered about his detention".

Sweden has said it is looking into his arrest.

Image caption Wang Quanzhang is also accused of "state subversion"

Earlier this month several Fengrui lawyers, their associates and activists were formally arrested and charged with "subversion", including Wang Quanzhang and Wang Yu.

In July, the Chinese authorities launched what appeared to be a widespread crackdown, when more than 280 human rights lawyers and activists - along with their associates - were summoned, detained or just disappeared. The arrests have been widely seen as the state's attempts to stifle dissent.

Another Swedish citizen, China-born Gui Minhai, appeared on state television on Sunday saying he voluntarily handed himself over to the authorities for a drink-driving conviction.

His arrest was in connection to a suspected crackdown on a Hong Kong bookshop known for publishing and carrying books critical of the Chinese government.

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