Another Chinese asylum-seeker has been arrested in Thailand, where he had applied for political refugee status with the United Nations, fellow activists said on Tuesday.
Wang Junli, who had been in the country for more than a year, and who held a letter of protection from the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), was arrested by Thai police on Sunday, according to a Chinese source in Bangkok who asked to remain anonymous.
"He has been detained by the [Thai] police, and they are planning to deport him," the source said. "They arrested him when he was in a tourist region."
He said the ruling Chinese Communist Party has launched a drive to repatriate all Chinese nationals in Thailand, many of whom seek asylum and resettlement in other countries after being jailed or otherwise targeted by the authorities as prisoners of conscience.
"A lot of asylum-seekers are being detained and sent straight back to China," the activist said. "I didn't know [Wang] very well, and I have only met him once, and we exchanged phone numbers."
"He called me just now from a different cell phone number, asking me what he should do. I told him that paying one's way out was the best option, because not getting out would be very bad."
"The situation is very tense at the moment, with somebody getting arrested every few days."
Detained near Myanmar border
Thailand-based activist Liu Xuehong said Wang, whose reasons for leaving China weren't specified, was detained near the Myanmar border.
"He had planned to escape to Myanmar, but they said he didn't have legal papers at the border crossing, because his passport and visa had both expired, and he was arrested," Liu said.
According to Thailand-based exile Yan Bojun, Wang has signed certain documents, meaning that he will likely soon be taken back to China.
"If he signs anything, that means he will probably be repatriated, so I have been looking all over for him," Yan said on Tuesday.
"A lot of people have been repatriated since July ... and now none of us dares to go out."
Yan said the Chinese police have officers and informants in Thailand as part of the operation to return refugees and asylum-seekers.
"Nobody is giving out information, so as to protect themselves," he said. "I moved here about a week or two ago, but I think it's no longer safe. I think someone is watching it."
An employee who answered the phone at the UNHCR offices in Bangkok said they didn't have details of Wang's case.
And an officer who answered the phone at the police station in Sai Yok village, near the border with Myanmar, said he was unaware of the case.
Repeated calls to Wang Junli's cell phone rang unanswered on Tuesday.
Thailand-based activist Li Xiaolong said he had spoken briefly with Wang by phone on Monday, however.
"I spoke to him while he was in the police station, and he was supposed to send us photos so we would have more information, but they never came," Li said.
"He is in a location that is quite far from Bangkok ... and I think his letter of protection may have expired," he said.
Activists on the run
Li said most Chinese activists were now effectively on the run, changing their residence as soon as they believed they might be found by the authorities.
Last month, Chinese asylum-seekers Jiang Yefei and Dong Guangping, who had fled persecution in their home country, were handed back to the Chinese authorities in a move that drew strong criticism from the United Nations.
They were later sent back to China, where they are under criminal detention for "organizing illegal border crossings and illegally crossing the border."
Jiang's wife Chu Ling, Dong's wife Gu Shuhua and daughter Dong Xuerui were later flown to Canada from Bangkok for resettlement as political refugees.
They say Jiang and Dong are now at risk of torture and other violations of their rights.
Three other Chinese nationals were repatriated at the same time, but their identities remain unconfirmed.
Li said the Chinese exile community in Thailand is now under extreme pressure.
"After those two were sent back, we held a meeting to tell everyone to take special precautions and to pay attention to security," Li said. "We are all afraid that we'll be next."
"But we have to be careful what we say, because if we upset the Thai government, they may come up with an even tougher policy or laws to limit the number of UNHCR refugees or illegal immigrants here," he said.
Last month, Chinese police detained Hong Kong publisher and bookshop-owner Gui Minhai during a visit to Thailand. Gui is now believed to be in criminal detention back in China, alongside two colleagues after his company commissioned a book highly critical of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.