Sweden has charged a Tibetan resident with spying on members of the Tibetan exile community for the Chinese government, according to the country’s counter-intelligence agency and media reports.
The man, who was arrested on Feb. 26 last year on suspicion of “espionage against refugees in Sweden,” has now been charged with “serious unlawful intelligence activities against several individuals” in the country, the Swedish Security Service said in a statement Wednesday.
“Unlawful intelligence activities targeting refugees is a very serious crime,” said Daniel Stenling, head of the Security Service's Counter-Intelligence Unit.
“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.”
According to the statement, the charges stemmed from evidence that the Tibetan man had been “tasked by another country to unlawfully gather information about individuals in the Tibetan diaspora in Sweden” and subsequently handed the information to “a foreign power.”
The Security Service noted that unlawful intelligence activities targeting refugees is a method used to prevent them from criticizing the regime of the country from which they have fled, and is also used by certain regimes in an attempt to gain control over people who have fled their countries.
Stenling added that unlawful intelligence activities targeting refugees “is not a new phenomenon” in Sweden.
According to media reports, the suspect is a 49-year-old Tibetan who was working for the radio station Voice of Tibet, and is believed to have provided the Chinese government with information about the families, housing situations and travel plans of members of the exile community.
The reports cited Swedish state prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist as saying that the man—who had deep ties to Sweden’s Tibetan exile community of around 140 individuals—had contacted Chinese officials in Poland and Finland, and had been paid 50,000 krona (U.S. $5,945) on one occasion.
He faces charges that carry a maximum sentence of up to four years in prison.
In an interview on Thursday, Tibet’s exile prime minister Lobsang Sangay told RFA’s Tibetan Service that the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) “is concerned about this [spying] and is closely following the situation,” adding that the India-based exile government is “in contact with all relevant agencies.”
“The Swedish government would not charge the person, unless there is sufficient evidence,” Sangay said.
“Not even a small Tibetan community in Sweden is spared by the Chinese government [which attempts to undermine them] through various methods and financial temptation.”
According to Sangay, while some Tibetans obtain visas to travel to Tibetan areas of China to visit family, “there is danger that the Chinese government taking advantage of such opportunities,” suggesting that Beijing may force them to do its bidding and assist in destabilizing exile communities.
“It is certain that the Chinese government’s hands have reached into Tibetan exile society, sowing discord and causing disharmony among us,” he added.
Earlier, Jamyang Choedon, the president of Tibetan Community in Sweden, told RFA that the suspect had been released a month after his arrest last year, but charged on Wednesday following an investigation by the Swedish government.
“Until there is evidence, you cannot prosecute the person,” Choedon siad.
“Tibetan Community is very concerned about this, but until the person is found guilty, we do not wish to blacken his name and we will bear no grudge against him.”
An anonymous source told RFA that the suspect’s name is Dorjee Gyaltsen, a refugee who had formerly lived in India and Nepal before relocating to Sweden.
The charges come around two months after Hong Kong-based bookseller and Swedish passport holder Gui Minhai was snatched by Chinese authorities from a train in the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo, while en route to Beijing in the company of two Swedish diplomats.
Gui, who remains in detention, has been accused of carrying “state secrets” to supply to overseas organizations, according to state media, and critics have said Sweden is not doing enough to stand up to Beijing over his treatment.
Ethnic Uyghurs living in Sweden have also reported being pressured by China to spy on the exile community there.
In 2009, the government sentenced a Swedish national of Uyghur descent named Babur Mahsut to 16 months in prison for “aggravated illegal espionage activity” after he was found to have collected personal information about exiled Uyghurs—including details on their health, travel and political involvement—and passed the information on to agents from the Chinese intelligence service.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.