China detains Swedish national who worked on legal aid

BEIJING - Chinese authorities have detained a Swedish national who worked on legal aid and rule of law issues, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said on Tuesday, amid a wider crackdown on rights activists in the country.

A spokesman for the Swedish Embassy in Beijing confirmed the man, who is in this 30s, had been detained, but declined to elaborate, citing legal reasons.

Sebastian Magnusson, the spokesman, added that the embassy has been in touch with Chinese authorities about meeting the detained man. "The embassy is, of course, working on this," Magnusson said.

The person with knowledge of the matter said the man was taken into custody on Jan. 4.

Hong Lei, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, said he did not know about the detention.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has strengthened a crackdown on rights lawyers and foreign groups working on legal reform. Rights groups have said the crackdown on their work is a move to rein in dissent, a charge the Chinese government denies.

China has detained or formally jailed several foreign nationals in recent years, sometimes over their proximity to what it perceives as sensitive information.

At least two Japanese citizens were arrested on suspicion of espionage last year, and a Canadian couple were arrested in 2014 amid a crackdown on foreign Christian groups along the country's sensitive border with North Korea.