Authorities in the Thai capital are holding two Chinese refugees on suspicion of entering the country illegally, as Chinese asylum seekers in the city told RFA they live in fear of imminent arrest and extradition by Beijing.
Zhou Yong, a member of the Falun Gong spiritual group that is outlawed by Beijing, was detained near the Chinese embassy on Wednesday, fellow refugees said.
Later, a fellow refugee known only by his nickname Xiao Lin was himself arrested after he showed up at the police station to act as interpreter for Zhou.
Both men have been granted refugee status with UNHCR in Bangkok, and had applied for resettlement in Canada.
An officer who answered the phone at the Fai Kham district police bureau in Bangkok confirmed that two Chinese nationals are currently in police custody.
The pair had entered Thailand illegally, and will appear in court on Friday, the officer said.
Repeated calls to Xiao Lin's cell phone rang unanswered on Thursday.
"It's really frightening; they have arrested three people in as many days," Xing Jian, who arrived in Bangkok after fleeing China two weeks ago, told RFA. "Now they have suddenly arrested a Falun Gong practitioner."
The arrests come as rights groups call for the release of two Chinese democracy activists currently held by Thai immigration authorities after seeking political refugee status with the United Nations.
Dong Guangping fled China with his family in September after serving a three-year jail term for subversion from 2001-2004, and being “disappeared” and held for eight months in secret detention in 2014.
Political cartoonist Jiang Yefei had been in Thailand since fleeing China in 2008, where he was detained and tortured after he criticized the ruling Chinese Communist Party's handling of the devastating Sichuan earthquake, and was granted refugee status last April by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
Both men are currently in immigration detention in Bangkok, charged with illegally entering the country, and face deportation at the request of Beijing, Jiang's wife Chu Ling told RFA.
Dong's wife Chu Shuhua called on the U.N. to resettle the family in a third country as soon as possible.
"They still haven't resettled us, which I wish they would do as soon as possible," she said. "If we don't leave, we will remain in danger."
Xing said refugees most fear being sent back to China by authorities in Thailand, which hasn't signed international treaties on the treatment of asylum-seekers and refugees.
"Some [detained for illegal immigration] are sent to prison, but there is a strong likelihood that they will be repatriated by the Thai police," he said.
"It seems that there's a trickle of people coming here to escape the situation back in China."
Living in fear
Chinese refugee Liu Xuehong, who entered Thailand via Malaysia in July, said refugees typically live in fear of the authorities unless they are successfully resettled by UNHCR.
"We all face the risk of arrest, because Thailand never signed the international covenant on refugees, so they proceed on the basis of their own laws," Liu said. "There's nothing we can do about it."
"Xiao Lin didn't have any papers, only a protection letter from UNHCR which is useless in Thailand," he said. "Now, he's not picking up his phone."
According to Xing, he now faces a wait of more than two years from one appointment to the next.
"I went to UNHCR the day after I got here on Oct. 26, and was called for interview two days later," he said. "Now I am on the waiting list for July 2018; that'll be my next interview."
An employee who answered the phone at the UNHCR office in Bangkok declined to comment on the status of Chinese refugees, referring inquiries to the southeast Asian section.
However, calls to that number were not connected during office hours on Thursday.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.