Murder Suspect’s Release ‘Not Connected’

China’s release of a young Chinese man who confessed to the murder of a Norwegian student in Budapest late last summer is not related to official Chinese protests over the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident, according to Norway’s own foreign ministry.

The ministry has been dealing with various negative reactions by Chinese officials over the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision last Friday to award the Peace Prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo. While exchange has continued at the bureaucratic level, meetings with Norwegian government ministers have been cancelled as have some cultural events, and another Norwegian delegation that had planned to travel to China next week has cancelled the trip after Chinese officials said they’d have no time to meet them.

News that Chinese police have released the young murder suspect Zhao Fei raised questions over whether it, too, was a sign of China’s irritation with Norway. Zhao Fei reportedly has admitted killing fellow student and former girlfriend Pernille Marie Thronsen of Oslo, whose body was found in Zhao’s apartment in Budapest August 30. Zhao had emerged quickly as the prime suspect in Thronsen’s murder but he fled Hungary shortly after the murder. He later turned himself in to police in China.

News of his release didn’t break until this week but Ragnhild Imerslund of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that Zhao actually was released as early as September 30, before the Peace Prize winner was announced. Imerslund said he was released after 30 days in a Chinese prison because Chinese law doesn’t allow continued custody without evidence of the crime involved.

Hungarian police reportedly haven’t sent evidence from Thronsen’s murder because of concerns Zhao may be sentenced to death. Norwegian officials and Thronsen’s family also have opposed any death sentence for Zhao, but believe he should face charges over the murder. China is not a member of the international police cooperation Interpol, and there is no extradition treaty between China and Hungary.

Imerslund said Norway has “full confidence” in China’s explanation for the release, which attributed it to “normal procedure” that occurred before China announced that its relations with Norway would suffer as a result of the Peace Prize.

Meanwhile, reaction to the Nobel Peace Prize continues. China’s Embassy in Oslo distributed copies of critical articles from the English-language Chinese newspaper Global Times, which called the Peace Prize “a disgrace,” and there was criticism in Norway as well.

One Norwegian business leader, writing in newspaper Aftenposten on Friday, claimed the prize failed to acknowledge the progress China has made in improving the quality of life for millions of its citizens and adapting to “western values and thinking.” He also called the prize “unwise” because it may jeopardize negotiations for a free trade treaty between China and Norway, and failed to address more substantial issues such as wars and aggression elsewhere in the world.


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