Sweden ex-envoy faces verdict in China dissident case

Stockholm (AFP) –


Judges will give a verdict on Friday in the trial of Sweden's former ambassador to Beijing, accused of overstepping her mandate by trying to negotiate the release of a dissident.

Anna Lindstedt, Beijing envoy between 2016 and 2019, is accused of brokering an unauthorised meeting in January last year to get a Chinese-Swedish publisher freed from custody in China.

The charge of "arbitrariness during negotiations with a foreign power" carries a maximum jail term of two years but the prosecutor has asked only for a suspended sentence.

Lindstedt said she had been "unfailingly loyal" to Sweden throughout her 30-year career, telling the court: "It is unreal, not to say Kafkaesque to stand accused of crimes against national security."

The case of dissident Gui Minhai -- a five-year-saga beginning when he vanished while on holiday in Thailand -- has strained relations between Sweden and China.

- 'Threatening' tone -

Lindstedt is accused of brokering a meeting between the publisher's daughter Angela Gui and businessmen with alleged ties to Beijing.

Angela Gui wrote on her blog shortly after that the businessmen claimed they could help to get her father released but only if she stopped talking to the media, later describing the tone of the meeting as "threatening".

A day after the blog post was published, the Swedish intelligence service confirmed they had opened an investigation into the matter.

Gui Minhai, known for publishing gossipy titles about Chinese political leaders in Hong Kong, disappeared while on holiday in 2015 and resurfaced in China, where he served two years in prison.

A few months after his October 2017 release he was again arrested, this time while on a train to Beijing with Swedish diplomats.

He was hit with a 10-year jail term earlier this year on charges of illegally providing intelligence abroad.

China insists the matter is an internal affair and has been stung by criticism from Sweden.

- Historic case -

The foreign ministry removed Lindstedt from her post but she has stayed on at the ministry without an assignment.

The ministry has meanwhile maintained that it had no prior knowledge of the meeting, saying Lindstedt acted on her own initiative.

Representatives from the ministry told the court that Lindstedt had been instructed to handle Gui Minhai's case through Stockholm.

In turn, Lindstedt maintained she had not received those instructions and that she had told her superiors of the meeting, according to public broadcaster SVT.

This is the first time since the 18th century that an ambassador has faced trial in Sweden.

Fellow diplomats have rallied to Lindstedt's defence, arguing that she had acted well within her remit.

"I don't think that the ambassador has committed a crime, absolutely not," former envoy Sven Hirdman told AFP on the first day of the trial.

"She tried to do what she should do as a Swedish ambassador -- to solve a complicated consular case between Sweden and China."

Critics have also argued that if Lindstedt is convicted it will make the work of diplomats more difficult.