A veteran Chinese dissident who served time in labor camp in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre has defected to Taiwan during a tourist visit to the democratic island.
Gong Yujian, who began a life of political activism after being heavily influenced by the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Beijing, said he had made the decision in a bid to escape constant harassment by the authorities and a nationwide crackdown on critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party under President Xi Jinping.
Gong, who arrived in Taiwan on a tourist visa on July 22, said he had made the decision not to board his return flight with his fellow travelers on Aug. 6, instead applying for political refugee status with authorities in Taipei.
"People like me, who are the targets of persecution in China ... live a life of the greatest possible suffering, and fear and pain," Gong, who was sentenced to two years' "re-education through labor" in 1994 for his support for the 1989 pro-democracy movement told RFA on Sunday.
"I was sentenced to counterrevolutionary crimes for the June 4 democracy movement, and that cast a long political shadow over the rest of my life," he said. "I was left with a criminal record."
"I knew that I would never get rid of it, never escape the fear, the harassment and the surveillance," he said.
Private defection plan
Gong said he didn't tell anyone back home, not even closest family, that he was planning to defect.
"It was all my own private plan, from start to finish," he said. "The whole situation in mainland China over the past couple of years has been an anti-corruption campaign in which corruption seems to get worse, ever tighter controls on thought and on the Internet."
"I was continually targeted by the stability maintenance system, and my feeling is that all of this started in 2013," Gong said, referring to the year that Xi Jinping was sworn in as president.
"Every time there was a politically sensitive date, like June 4, or the parliamentary session, when the U.S. first lady came visiting and asked to meet with people like us, which was the strangest," he said.
Gong said that one of his aims in leaving China is to ensure that the military crackdown on the weeks-long student-led democracy movement in 1989 is never forgotten.
"There must be a reappraisal of June 4. The blood of June 4 can't have been shed in vain," he said.
"Mainland China should definitely implement democracy, because that's the only way to really ensure its development, the only way that there is hope for world peace," he said.
Gong, who was 12 at the time of the protests, was sent to labor camp five years later for scrawling the words "Down with Deng Xiaoping" on the windows of a truck used as part of a security cordon in his hometown during the 1989 pro-democracy movement.
His charge sheet also mentioned his leafleting activities, the blockage of a bridge with a bus, and his habit of listen to overseas radio broadcasts, Gong said.
But he said he is still racked with worry over possible official retaliation against his relatives back home.
"All I can do is offer my apologies to my mother and father, who have had to carry a burden of fear and worry for more than 20 years on my account," he said.
"Today, I have probably caused you still more fear and anxiety, but all I can say is that, in the fight for the ideal of democracy, a person can do things that other people think are crazy," Gong said.
Taiwan has been governed separately from mainland China throughout the Japanese occupation (1895-1945), and since the KMT nationalist regime fled to the island after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists on the mainland in 1949.
Many of the island's 23 million residents identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese, and there is broad political support for de facto self-rule, if not formal independence. The island has enjoyed full democracy since 2000.
Beijing, which sees the island as a renegade province awaiting reunification, has threatened to use military force, should Taiwan seek independent statehood. However, bilateral ties have warmed in recent years, with the advent of direct flights and tourism in both directions between the two former enemies.
Li Huaping missing
Back across the Taiwan Strait, where Xi is waging a severe crackdown on activists and lawyers, fears were growing on Monday over New Citizens' Movement activist Li Huaping, known by his online nickname "Norwegian Wood," or Nuowei Senlin, who was scheduled for release on Sunday from a detention center in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui.
Li's nephew Li Pu said the family has had no news of him since his scheduled release, and that they believe he is likely being held by police under "residential surveillance" at an undisclosed location.
"We don't know; nobody knows anything," Li Pu said. "We haven't received any news and we don't know where he is."
He said some of Li Huaping's supporters had planned to meet him on his release in the provincial capital, Hefei, but that police had detained them.
"I think he's being held somewhere, and they won't let him out for another few days, because a lot of [supporters] went, so they were probably afraid that it would spark an incident of some kind," Li Pu said.
An officer who answered the phone at the Anhui provincial police department state security division declined to comment on Li Huaping's whereabouts.
"You've got the wrong number," the officer said.
Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa and Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Ka Pa for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.