A human rights activist, a secret prison and a tale from Xi Jinping’s new China – by Tom Phillips in Chiang Mai


Peter Dahlin spent 23 days in a ‘black prison’ in Beijing, where he says he was deprived of sleep and questioned with a ‘communication enhancement’ machine. Here he tells the story of his incarceration and expulsion from the People’s Republic

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Some nights Peter Dahlin says he tucks a “big-ass knife” under his bed in case intruders come for him as he dozes; others he cannot sleep at all.

“They’ve kidnapped people several times here before,” says the 36-year-old Swedish human rights activist, chain-smoking Marlboro cigarettes as he remembers the 23 days he spent in secret detention in China.

It has been a year since Dahlin became one of the first foreign victims of President Xi Jinping’s war on dissent.

On 3 January 2016 Chinese security agents encircled the activist’s Beijing home and spirited him and his Chinese girlfriend, Pan Jinling, off to a covert interrogation centre he now calls “The Residence”.

Months have now passed but the memories of that spell in custody have proved hard to shake. “These facilities are built to break you,” the campaigner says during a seven-hour interview at a home in Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand where he and Pan have lived since he was deported from China amid one of the most severe crackdowns in decades.

The story of Peter Dahlin, told here in unprecedented detail, offers a rare and troubling snapshot of Xi Jinping’s China, where an unforgiving offensive against civil society is now unfolding.

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