Two Chinese asylum seekers who were sent back by the Thai authorities at China's request in spite of being granted political refugee status by the United Nations are now at risk of torture, rights groups have warned.
Sichuan-based rights activist Jiang Yefei and Henan activist Dong Guangping were handed over by Thai police to Chinese authorities on Nov. 13, in a move that drew strong criticism from the United Nations.
They were sent back to China just days ahead of their planned resettlement as refugees, after last-minute talks broke down, rights groups said.
Both men had been previously been persecuted for their rights activism, and were awaiting resettlement in Canada. Their repatriation drew strong criticism from U.N. officials.
Dong is currently being held at the Chongqing No. 2 Detention Center, his lawyer revealed in a recent interview with RFA.
"We don't yet know what he is charged with, because the family have yet to receive any formal notification of arrest or charges," Dong's lawyer Chang Boyang told RFA.
"But I have learned through certain channels that [Dong] is currently in the Chongqing No. 2 Detention Center," Chang said, adding that the two men are believed to be in the same location.
An official who answered the phone at the detention center last week declined to confirm the report, however.
"We can't answer your questions here," the official said. But repeated calls to the Chongqing municipal police department rang unanswered during office hours on May 26.
According to the Chinese rights website Weiquanwang, Jiang Yefei, a native of Sichuan's provincial capital Chengdu, is also being held in Chongqing, a southwestern megacity that reports directly to the central government in Beijing.
The Chongqing municipal police department issued a notification dated May 14 showing that Jiang is being detained on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power" and "organizing the smuggling of persons across a national boundary," Weiquanwang said.
"He was sent back to ... the place where he had left China in the first place," the group said.
"There were last minute negotiations between the Chinese consulate, the Thai authorities and high-ranking officials at the UNHCR, but they were unfortunately unable to save him."
London-based rights group Amnesty International said it now fears for the personal safety of both men.
"Jiang Yefei and Dong Guangping are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment and unfair trial," the group said in a statement on its website.
"The two were recognized as refugees by the UN’s Refugee Agency, but were forcibly returned to China from Thailand in violation of international law," it said.
Fears for safety
Dong Guangping’s family and lawyer have still received no formal notification from the authorities about his whereabouts, or the charges against him
When the Thai government forcibly returned them to China on Nov. 13, they had already been accepted for rapid resettlement in a third country, and were scheduled to depart on Nov. 18, Amnesty said.
Jiang's wife Chu Ling and Dong's wife Gu Shuhua and daughter Dong Xuerui arrived in Canada safely several days after the repatriation.
Jiang and Dong appeared on state-run CCTV news “confessing” to human trafficking on Nov. 26.
"After viewing the footage, their families raised the allegation that both men may have been subjected to torture or other ill-treatment," Amnesty said.
"They found that the two men’s facial expressions and tone of voice were suspiciously different from usual, and showed signs of pain and stress," it said, calling on its members to write to the Chinese government in protest.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.