Inside China’s Secret 23-Day Detention of a Foreign Nonprofit Chief

By Edward Wong for the New York Times

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — On the 10th day of Peter Dahlin’s captivity in a secret Beijing jail, Chinese state security officers sprang one of their big surprises — something he found even more astonishing than hearing a colleague being beaten in a room above his cell.

They showed him a document about the organization he had started in China to promote access to legal services, complete with descriptions of employees, associates and grant recipients. But it was not written by the officers. It appeared to have been prepared by the National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit group based in Washington that is largely funded by the United States Congress.

The internal report laid out how Mr. Dahlin’s small organization had received financing from the nonprofit for the last five years, and it discussed his program in detail. It seemed to have been meant for circulation only among the nonprofit’s top directors.

“I realized it must have come straight from N.E.D. itself somehow,” Mr. Dahlin said in an interview, adding that he had never seen the document before.

Mr. Dahlin, a Swedish citizen, was detained and interrogated for 23 days this year by China’s Ministry of State Security, a powerful spy and counterespionage agency. The authorities showed him on national television apologizing for unspecified crimes. Then they deported him.

His ordeal, which he described for the first time in an interview with The New York Times, offers an unusually clear view into the suspicion directed toward foreign nongovernmental organizations by the Chinese security apparatus and the lengths to which it goes to police such groups.

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