April 19, 2018
In the first known case of a Western government bringing criminal charges against a Tibetan accused of espionage, Sweden has indicted a 49-year old man for spying on Tibetans in exile for the Chinese government. The case, which will be the subject of a court trial, highlights the threats to Tibetan communities all over the world as China continues to intensify both its heavy securitization and surveillance mechanisms in Tibet and its overseas influence operations.
While it is known that Tibetans are informed upon across the Tibetan diaspora, particularly due to the heightened and more systematic activity of China’s United Front Work Department, this is the first time that a Western government has brought criminal charges against a Tibetan. In 2010, in a linked investigation, Sweden sentenced a Uighur man who had been caught informing on other Uighurs to a year and ten months in prison – the highest penalty ever for an intelligence case of this kind in Sweden.
In a strongly-worded statement on Wednesday (April 11), state prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist described the Chinese government as a “totalitarian regime”, telling the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter that: “This is a very serious crime. Espionage affects very vulnerable people. People who have escaped to Sweden from totalitarian regimes must feel safe to enjoy their basic freedoms, such as the right to protest against a regime without their relatives being put at risk.”