In the past few days, a case where Swedish police removed a Chinese family of three from a Stockholm hotel has made headlines around the world and created a diplomatic row between the two countries.
A lot of rumours are flying around, so I decided to try to clarify some of the most important details by summing up some reporting and information from my native Sweden.
First a brief background: The family surnamed Zeng arrived to Generator Hostel some time before midnight, despite only having a booking starting from the following day of September 2. Upon arrival, the family demanded to spend the night in the lobby, a request that the staff did not want to accommodate.
Despite being told to numerous times, the family refused to leave the lobby and installed themselves in the sofas. After a couple of hours the situation became “threatening” according to the staff, who decided to call on police to remove the family from the lobby.
The drama increased further with the arrival of the police, who the son accused of using excessive violence against his parents. “Excessive violence” is of course in the eye of the beholder. Anyone is free to make their own judgement based on the below videos:
The father allegedly all of a sudden turned so ill that he couldn’t walk, and was carried out from the hotel, and “thrown on the ground”. “Save our lives!”, the mother screams as the police and a security guard watches in disbelief. The son repeatedly accuses the police of trying to murder his parents.
While the bottom three videos appeared to have been filmed by the son, the top one was taken by a passer-by (un)lucky enough to watch the scene.
The man gives an interview with Sweden’s biggest newspaper Aftonbladet, where he says the police didn’t look mean or violent at all.
The police tried to calm down the situation while the Chinese family just “shouted and screamed”, the man explained to Aftonbladet. He said the son’s behaviour was particularly strange, suddenly just “throwing himself flat on the ground”.
According to the son – whose account was published by nationalist tabloid Global Times – several more armed police then arrived at the scene, proceeding to force the family into a police car.
Inside the car, he claimed his parents were harshly beaten up by the police while they were driven to a desolate graveyard and thrown out of the car in the cold, forest like environment with animals howling all around them.
While there is indeed no video material from car ride itself, it is worth noting that the family was let off not at a graveyard but at a metro station. The name of the station is “Skogskyrkogården”, or “Woodland Cemetery”, which is referring to a UNESCO heritage site in the shape of an old graveyard in connection to the subway station.
The Woodland Cemetery metro station is located within walkable distance from the very center of Stockholm.
The station is located well within the city limits of Stockholm, less than six kilometers from the hotel where the family had started the quarrel a couple of hours earlier. According to chief prosecutor Mats Ericsson, the station is a common place for the police to drive people who have been disturbing the social order in the city centre.
Nevertheless, Chinese authorities were quick with demanding a public apology, as well as a punishment for the police officers and monetary compensation for the family. The demands were issued on the website of the Chinese embassy in Stockholm this weekend, allegedly after the Swedish side had not given any “feedback” despite communication from the embassy.
Furthermore, Aftonbladet last weekend proceeded to interview Gui Congyou, the Chinese ambassador to Sweden, concerning the case. In the interview – published on the embassy’s website in English and Chinese – Gui is totally siding with the family’s version of the story.
He keeps repeating a set of “alternative truths”. Apart from stating that the family were being “brutally treated”, he also says several times that the family arrived just “a few hours earlier” than their booking and that police tossed them off at a graveyard in a “desolate place”. Here an excerpt from the interview:
Q: Hotels have to call the police when tourists refuse to leave their property. It happens frequently in Sweden.
Gui Congyou: You can continue to talk to the hotel to find out what happened there. But why were the Chinese tourists treated so brutally and tossed at a graveyard in a desolate place by the police when they did not break any Swedish law? Why has the police not informed the Chinese Embassy and not responded to our requests for a meeting? If you will interview the Swedish police, please raise my questions to them.
Q: Yesterday the Aftonbladet website posted a video shot by a witness. I would like for you to watch it and tell me what you think. (The video shows the Chinese tourists calling for help in front of the police on the street.)
Gui Congyou: Why was the Chinese tourist acting like that? His father was ill and had to bring medicine with him. The father was already half-unconscious when being brutally dragged from the hotel and his mother was collapsing on the ground. Why were the Swedish police not giving them any help? At midnight, when they had just arrived in a new place and knew no one around here, what else do you think these helpless people could do?
By coincidence, I actually stayed one night at the Generator Hostel this very summer when back in Sweden. As the time for check in is afternoon, and the family arrived before midnight, they would have missed their check-in time with about 15 hours and not “a few”.
Also, there is a restaurant and a café belonging to the hotel just by the lobby. By buying a coffee there, the family could for sure have waited until it was time for check in. (Though this café is not mentioned in any reporting so far.)
The ambassador also spends a considerable amount of time talking about the bad security situation in Sweden. Before he was posted here, Gui Congoyu says, he had learned how Sweden was a very safe place where one did not even had to lock the door. Though after having lived here for a year, the ambassador had now revalued his assessment of Sweden as a safe country.
According to Gui Congyou, on average two Chinese tourists get robbed on their wallets or passports every day in Sweden. The ambassador had also noted how law and order and organised crime was a frequent topic of debate during the recent election campaign. In all, this have led to the embassy issuing no less than three warnings and alerts only during the last month, for Chinese tourists visiting Sweden.
When asked if “this kind of incidents” is not a common problem in a majority of the world’s big cities, the ambassador replies that this would never happen in China(!)
However, another potential explanation for the strong reaction from the Chinese authorities have been discussed in Swedish media. An anonymous source within the Swedish Government Offices, as well as a political scientist, have connected the reaction to the case of Gui Minhai.
In interviews with Aftonbladet, they both express their belief that this case would have passed by unnoticed hand it not been for the continuous demands from Swedish authorities and media to release Gui Minhai, the publisher who was been locked up in China without a trial for almost three months.
This is of course only subject of speculation, and the Chinese ambassador angrily denies any connection to Gui Minhai in his interview with Aftonbladet.
The Chinese embassy’s demand for an apology, compensation and punishment towards the police still stands.
Today, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs also chipped in by during a press briefing demanding Sweden “take China’s concerns seriously” and “take practical measures” to secure the safety of Chinese tourists.
It is however very likely that the Chinese authorities will disappointed in this regard.
Top prosecutor Mats Ericsson today told Aftonbladet that the investigation towards the involved police patrol was cancelled already September 7, since there was no indication that the police had been acting wrongfully.
“This is normal procedure when people are disturbing the social order”, Ericsson says to Aftonbladet, adding that the family had no right to be at the hotel and that the police were acting according to Swedish law.
Alas, most likely no apology will be issued, despite the fact that the Chinese ambassador multiple times has accused the police for breaking the law, and demanding that the Swedish authorities should handle the case “in accordance with the law”.
This statement is of course a bit ironic, as the Chinese authorities when talking about Gui Minhai never miss a chance to point out that every individual including foreigners are equal before the law in China. And the case with the Chinese family was clearly handled according to Swedish law.
At any rate, the family left Sweden already the following morning, but they seem to be neither in bad condition nor in bad spirits. On Chinese social media, photos have been circulating of the family continuing their Europe trip:
The reactions on Chinese social media have been strong but varied. While many netizens are showing sympathy for the family and calling for a boycott of Sweden, there are also those expressing their grief that the police just didn’t go ahead and bury the family at the graveyard while at it.
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