A Chinese political cartoonist who had lived in Thailand for the past seven years, was arrested three weeks ago at Beijing’s request and was deported back to China. Two other Chinese dissidents were also extradited, highlighting how China’s influence and its oppressive policies are reaching beyond its borders.
The Thai police arrested the cartoonist, Jiang Yefei (姜野飞), on 28 October, held him in a prison for illegal immigrants in Bangkok for just over two weeks and finally put him on a plane chartered by the Chinese government on 13 November after denying him any contact with his family for the last eight days.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had nonetheless recognized his refugee status and Canada had offered to take both him and his family. Before fleeing to Thailand in 2008, he had been imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese authorities for criticizing their handling of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan.
“We call on the authorities to release Jiang Yefei immediately and unconditionally or, failing that, to ensure that he is not tortured or mistreated in detention,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia desk.
“We also call for the repeal of the new national security law, whose vague wording and very broad applicability allow the authorities to assume the right to gag critics beyond China’s borders.”
Thailand’s extradition of Jiang is far from isolated. Dong Guangping (董广平), a dissident and human rights activist, and Gui Minhai (桂民海), a publisher of books critical of the Chinese government, were also returned to China on the same plane on 13 November with the Thai government’s complicity.
Dong had been in Thailand since September and also had refugee status. Gui, who was born in China and had acquired Swedish nationality, had been missing in Thailand since mid-October. He worked in Hong Kong for Mighty Current, a publishing house specializing in books about mainland China’s politics, power struggles and scandals involving high-level officials.
“This is not the first time Thailand has extradited political detainees, Ismaïl added. Even if it is not a signatory of the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, we remind the Thai authorities of the principle of non-refoulement, under which no one should be sent back to a country where their life or liberty is threatened because of their political convictions.”
Repatriation on “national security” grounds
The national security law adopted on 1 July, with its obligation to “defend the people’s fundamental interests,” seems to be playing a key role in China’s determination to pursue dissidents who have gone into exile.
Not satisfied with exporting its system of censorship and information control, the government is now using “national security” as grounds for extending its repression beyond mainland China’s borders and for often calling on its neighbours to repatriate whose who flee Xi Jinping’s regime.
Bao Zhuoxuan (包卓轩), the son of a couple being held incommunicado (human rights lawyer Wang Yu (王宇) and activist Bao Longjun (包龙军), was arrested in Burma on 6 October and was sent back to China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, where he is now under house arrest.
Ranked 176th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, China continues to take advantage of the international community’s silence to extend its prerogatives in breach of international law.