Chinese Rights Activist Disappears During Journey to Seek Political Asylum

2016-01-21
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Journalist Li Xin, who went into exile to protect his family in China, in an undated photo.
Journalist Li Xin, who went into exile to protect his family in China, in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Li Xin

UPDATED at 3.45 P.M. EST on 03-02-2016

A rights activist and former columnist at a top Chinese newspaper who had tried to defect to India four months ago has been missing for 10 days after boarding a train in Thailand en route to Laos on a quest to reach western countries, where he planned to apply for political asylum, his wife said Thursday.

Li Xin, a writer for the cutting-edge Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper, fled to New Delhi last October after being recruited by China’s state security police to spy on other activists, with the threat of spying charges hanging over him.

The formerly active campaigner for democratic reform and human rights said authorities pressured him to become an informant after he posted comments online in support of blind Shandong rights activist Chen Guangcheng.

After arriving in India, Li made public confidential documents from his time at the newspaper, revealing the inner workings of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda machine, which included a secret list of topics and sources off limits to media outlets.

Li could not be granted political asylum in India, because the country does not accept applications from Chinese nationals. He then applied for a tourist visa at the American embassy in New Delhi so he could go to the United States and apply for asylum there, but his application was rejected.

Li traveled to Thailand on Jan. 1 and boarded a train nine days later to the northeastern border town of Nong Khai where he tried to enter Laos, but suddenly lost contact with his wife He Fangxian, she told RFA’s Mandarin Service.

A friend tried to report the case to the Thai police, but the report was rejected, she said.

“They asked, ‘Why you didn’t you report this to the Chinese embassy,” said He Fangxian, who remains in China.

“But I am not in Thailand, so there is no way to get to the Chinese embassy,” she said. “After all, I cannot leave, so I have no choice.”

Lao authorities

If He Fangxian cannot get any information about Li’s disappearance from police in Thailand, she will try to get information from Lao authorities, she said.

“But now the situation is that Thai authorities have refused to accept Li’s case, so how can I go to Laos?” He Fangxian said.

He Fangxian telephoned Li’s family on Wednesday, hoping they had reported the disappearance to local police, but was unable to reach them, she said.

Later, Li’s aunt told He Fangxian that Li’s father had received her message about the disappearance, He Fangxian said.

“I requested that she accompany Li’s father to report it to the police,” she said.

Last December, authorities in the southern Chinese province Guangdong prevented He Fangxian and the couple’s infant son from leaving the country to join Li after his attempted defection.

Border officials in Shenzhen stopped the two as they tried to cross into neighboring Hong Kong, which has maintained its own internal immigration border since its 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

At the time, Li said he believed authorities slapped the exit ban on his wife and child as a form of retaliation after he leaked information about the inner workings of the Chinese government’s propaganda machine.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story identified Li Xin's wife as Shi Sanmei. Her name is He Fangxian.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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