Chinese Journalist Stranded in Thailand

A Chinese journalist says time is running out for U.N. refugee officials to hear his asylum case.

A screenshot showing the homepage of the English language version of the Beijing Spring Magazine Website, March 16, 2009.

HONG KONG—A Chinese dissident journalist who fled to Thailand after his writings angered Beijing has appealed to the U.N. refugee agency not to leave him stranded, citing threats and harassment aimed at his application for political asylum.

Zeng Jieming, who is currently applying for political asylum with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok, is a former journalist for state-run Guilin Television. He fled to Thailand on Oct. 31, 2008.

Zeng said he was targeted by the Chinese authorities for publishing articles in overseas-based magazines and Web sites, including Dacankao Daily News, Beijing Spring, and Fire of Liberty.

“After I lodged my application, they gave me an interview slip for March 13, 2009,” said Zeng, who said he was in Thailand without any official status.

He said he was trying to process his asylum application under the stamp of the Bangkok Refugee Center, which is run under contract with the UNHCR.

They are making me wait indefinitely—a few months, a year."

Zeng Jieming

When he showed up at the UNHCR office in Thailand on the day, however, staff refused to see him.

“The reason they gave me was that they had called me and my wife on Dec. 18 but that neither of us had answered the phone,” he said.

Zeng called for international attention to his case before his permit to stay in Thailand expires April 30.

His appeal comes just days after the wife and children of a top civil rights lawyer under close surveillance by the Chinese authorities arrived in the United States after walking across the border to Thailand.

Gao Zhisheng’s wife Geng He, their 15-year-old daughter, and five-year-old son suffered “great hardship” in China from living under virtual house arrest in their Beijing home, Geng said, and arrived in the U.S. March 11.

Intimidation alleged

Meanwhile, staff at the UNHCR office, have refused to reschedule Zeng’s appointment, asking instead that he write a letter explaining why he didn’t answer the telephone on Dec. 18.

“They are making me wait indefinitely—a few months, a year,” he said.

Zeng said unidentified men had paid him visits beginning Jan. 7 and tried to intimidate him.

“This made me think that perhaps the Chinese government was putting pressure on the UNHCR in Thailand, and causing problems for my asylum application.”

“On Jan. 7 I got a threatening phone call. The caller said I would have to suffer the consequences if I wrote articles criticizing China,” Zeng said.

“The second incident happened one evening when I went out for a walk. I had just got to a bridge at the mouth of the alleyway where I was living, and two small vans drove recklessly towards me, brushing past me very close. Why didn’t they use headlights? It was already dark,” he said.

“The third incident was in the last few days. Somebody started banging on my door in the middle of the night. I asked who it was, but there was no reply.”

Zeng's responsibility

An interpreter at the UNHCR office in Bangkok said the responsibility lay with Zeng.

“A lot of time had elapsed. He should have come to enquire why we hadn’t called him in so long,” the interpreter said.

The interpreter, surnamed Liu, said he doubted the Chinese government would get involved in Zeng’s case.

“In my experience, the Chinese Communist Party hasn’t any influence here. Unless it has bribed someone,” Liu said.

“There are two people in charge of China-related cases here. One is me. I wouldn’t take bribes from the Chinese government. The other is 76 years old. How could such a person do that? He doesn’t have any influence, so how could the Chinese Communist Party influence the way we administer things here?”

Beijing Spring editor in chief Hu Ping said a number of Chinese dissidents had escaped to Thailand recently and applied for political asylum.

“The UNHCR should hire some specialists to do this kind of work,” Hu said.

“These people should keep contacts with overseas rights groups, so that when there’s something they don’t understand, they can ask us. That would make their work go much more smoothly.”

Original reporting in Mandarin by Tang Qiwei. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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