by Johannes Ledel
Sweden’s former ambassador to China went on trial in Stockholm on Friday accused of overstepping her mandate and risking national security by trying to negotiate the release of a dissident.
Anna Lindstedt faces up to two years in prison if she is convicted of brokering an unauthorised meeting in January last year when she was ambassador.
She was trying to secure the freedom of Chinese-born Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, who published gossipy titles about Chinese political leaders in a Hong Kong book shop. He has been in jail in China almost continuously since 2015.
Lindstedt, a former envoy in both Vietnam and Mexico who acted as Sweden’s chief negotiator at the 2015 climate summit in Paris, denies the charge.
Prosecutor Henrik Olin laid out his case during Friday’s hearing, telling the court: “Anna Lindstedt was at the time Sweden’s ambassador to China, but acted outside the bounds of the mandate she had for the consular case.”
He said the crime had endangered Sweden’s peaceful relations with China.
But defence lawyer Conny Cedermark replied that the only part of the prosecution’s description his client agreed with was that “Anna Lindstedt at the time was Sweden’s ambassador in China”.
According to media reports, Lindstedt is expected to argue that she had informed her superiors of the meeting.
Gui disappeared while on holiday in Thailand in 2015 before resurfacing in mainland China, where he was put in jail.
A few months after his October 2017 release he was again arrested, this time while he was on a train to Beijing with Swedish diplomats.
In February this year, he was given 10 years in jail on charges of illegally providing intelligence abroad.
Lindstedt helped organise a meeting between Gui’s daughter, Angela Gui, and businessmen with ties to Beijing.
Angela Gui wrote in February 2019 on her blog about a “strange experience” where Lindstedt had invited her to Stockholm in January.
During discussions in the lounge of a hotel in the Swedish capital, in the presence of Lindstedt, she was introduced to the businessmen who claimed they could help secure her father’s release.
In exchange, Angela Gui said she was told she “needed to be quiet” and to “stop all media engagement”, and later described the tone of the meeting as “threatening”.
Sweden’s intelligence service launched an investigation after reports of the meeting emerged.
The foreign ministry subsequently removed Lindstedt from her post but she has stayed on at the foreign ministry without an assignment.
The foreign ministry has meanwhile maintained that it had no prior knowledge of the meeting, saying Lindstedt acted of her own accord.
Fellow diplomats have however rallied to Lindstedt’s defence — 21 former envoys criticising the ministry’s decision to report Lindstedt to the police.
They wrote in a February opinion piece in newspaper Dagens Nyheter that she had acted well within her rights and role as an ambassador.
During the trial’s first day, Olin set the stage by describing the prickly relations between Sweden and China in recent years.
Criticism from Swedish officials and commentators over Beijing’s treatment of Gui Minhai has been a thorn in the side of China, which insists that the matter is an internal affair.
Olin also referred to several incidents in Sweden that have angered China’s embassy in recent years, suggesting that Lindstedt’s actions risked aggravating the already tense ties.
Parts of the trial, which is set to run until June 22, will be held behind closed doors because of national security.