14:23 GMT20 February 2020
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    Chinese Ambassador Gui Congyou compared Sweden's criticism of China to an 48-kilogram lightweight boxer picking a fight with an 86 kg heavyweight.

    22 executives from Sweden's leading media companies, including newspapers Svenska Dagbladet and Dagens Samhälle, as well as national broadcaster SVT and Swedish Radio, have published an open letter in protest against what they called “China's attacks” on “independent Swedish media”.

    The letter, published by the Swedish Publishers' Association, highlighted Chinese Ambassador Gui Congyou's “repeated attempts to undermine Swedish freedom of the press and freedom of expression” with “false statements and ,,threats”, as well as the embassy's delayed visa processes, criticism against Swedish publications and attempts to influence editorial content through “pressure”.

    “It is unacceptable that the world’s largest dictatorship is trying to prevent free and independent journalism in a democracy like Sweden. These repeated attacks must cease immediately,” the letter said.

    The Swedish publishers accused the Chinese embassy of wrongfully labelling the Swedish press “media tyranny” and having threatened Sweden’s Culture Minister Amanda Lind with “consequences” in connection with the Swedish PEN’s award of the Tucholsky Prize to Chinese-born Swedish publisher Gui Minhai.

    The publishers emphasised that Sweden is not the only country affected and highlighted the example of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, from which China demanded an apology following a satirical drawing earlier this week. The cartoon, which China labelled “an insult to the Chinese people” featured a Chinese flag with each of its five yellow stars depicted as a coronavirus. The newspaper assured that it was not intended as an insult, yet refused to budge. Numerous Danish politicians, including Prime Minister Mette Federiksen defended the publication, citing free speech.

    The letter referred to the 2019 Press Freedom Rating by Reporters Without Borders, where China ranks as 177 out of 180 countries surveyed and which accuses the Chinese authorities of using “blackmail, threats, violence and harassment to silence journalists in democratic countries”, from freelance reporters to large media companies and from publishers to social media. To offset this, that Sweden should raise the issue to the EU level, the publishers argued, whereas the government must, internationally, step up efforts guard the freedom of the press and opinion.

    SVT's responsible publisher Charlotta Friborg, one of the signatories, called the Chinese embassy's “numerous verbal attacks” on Swedish journalists and opinion makers “completely unacceptable”, yet stressed that the attempts to control the narrative will “obviously not succeed”, instead endangering Chinese refugees and Chinese living in exile.

    The Chinese Embassy has yet to comment on the letter.

    The recent grudge originated from the Chinese Ambassador Gui Congyou comparing Sweden's criticism of China to an 48-kilogram lightweight boxer’s picking a fight with an 86-kilo heavyweight. “What choice remains for the heavyweight boxer?” the ambassador asked. Addressing this, Swedish Foreign Minister Anne Linde called the statement “an unacceptable threat.” On 21 January, the Chinese ambassador was summoned to the Swedish Foreign Ministry, and several political parties in the Swedish Parliament called for his expulsion from the country.

    Sino-Swedish relations have plunged to a low point in recent years, following Swedish Culture Minister Amanda Lind's appearance at the ceremony where journalist Gui Minhai, currently detained in China, was awarded the PEN prize.

    Last year, the Swedish Security Police SÄPO designated China the greatest threat to the country, alongside Russia.

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    free speech, media, China, Sweden
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