China tried to control Tibetan exiles in Sweden by hiring a spy in the refugee community

JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty ImagesTibetan Buddhist monks praying at the Rongwo Monastery in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on March 1, 2018.
  • Sweden charged a man this week on accusations he spied on fellow Tibetan exiles for China.
  • The man collected information on where people lived, their family members, trips, meetings, and political activities and is suspected of giving that information to a Chinese official in exchange for cash.
  • China has spied on refugees in Sweden in the past as part of a strategy to control what exiles abroad say about China.

Sweden formally charged a Tibetan man for spying on fellow exiles in the Scandinavian country this week.

The man, identified as 49-year-old Dorjee Gyantsan in charge sheets cited by the Associated Press, was arrested in February 2017 on suspicion of spying on the Tibetan diaspora in Sweden and handing intelligence over to a “foreign nation.”

The country has not been officially identified but is widely believed to be China, after the state prosecutor told local media that the suspect met with a Chinese official, reported to be an embassy secretary, in Poland and another official in Finland. Gyanstan reportedly received at least $US6,000 on one occasion, shortly before his arrest.

“Unlawful intelligence activities targeting refugees is a very serious crime. It undermines the democratic process, as it prevents people who are already vulnerable and have fled their countries from exercising the rights and freedoms they should be enjoying under Sweden’s constitution,” Daniel Stenling, the head of Sweden’s Security Service’s Counter-Intelligence Unit, said in a statement.

Gyantsan, who used several identity cards, collected information on some of the roughly 140 exiled Tibetans living in Sweden from June 2015 to February 2017. That information included where people lived, their family relationships, trips, meetings, and their political activities.

Jamyang Choedon, the president of Tibetan Community in Sweden, told the Associated Press it was “shocking” that China was spying on the them, particularly as the community is so small.

“We all know each other. I know him,” Choedon said of the suspect.

According to prosecutors, Gyantsan “pretended to sympathize with Tibetans” to gain information and even worked at the the pro-Tibetan radio station “Voice of Tibet.”

Tibet is an autonomous region that Beijing considers part of China.

Tibetans aren’t the only people abroad that China spies on

The Swedish Security Service said intelligence activities targeting refugees are not uncommon and are used to prevent them from criticising the country they fled. The information gathered is then “used by certain regimes in an attempt to gain control over people” the service said.

This has been particularly true for ethnic Uighurs, most of whom are Muslim and live in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region. To suppress any potential separatism, they subjected to DNA collection, iris scans, mass surveillance, predictive software, and re-education camps.

And for many of those who move overseas the monitoring is not left behind.

In 2009, Sweden arrested an Uighur exile for “refugee espionage” in a situation that closely mirrors the current case in Stockholm.

And earlier this year, Foreign Policy reported Chinese police have been demanding Uyghurs living in France hand over the addresses of their home and work, photos, and identity documents including scans of French passports for both themselves and, at times, their French spouses.

According to the report from Foreign Policy, China’s policy may be working. Some Uyghurs in France are hesitant to speak about China out of fear their families back home may be sent to re-education camps.

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