Two Chinese political refugees held in an immigration detention center in Thailand have lodged a further bail application in a bid to stall attempts to repatriate them, where they will likely face political reprisals at the hands of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Wu Yuhua, who is also known by her nickname Ai Wu, was detained by police in Bangkok alongside her husband Yang Chong on Aug. 29 and locked up in an immigration detention center.
The couple had been registered as genuine political refugees by the United Nations and were awaiting resettlement in a third country. But Thailand, which isn't a signatory to international conventions on refugees, doesn't legally recognize that status.
Fellow refugee Yu Yanhua, who is helping the couple with their case, said their bail application has been referred by the Pathum Wan Court to a higher court, with a hearing scheduled for Monday.
"I went back to the United Nations today to try to find the lawyer ... to ask them to focus on this case, and to help us out," Yu told RFA. "They came out to meet me and said that we had to get in touch with the Thai government."
"They said they were contacting them to try to get [Ai Wu and Yang] out of there as soon as possible," she said.
Fellow political refugee Li Xiaolong, who is also an active campaigner for Chinese refugees in Thailand, said the move to a higher court wouldn’t necessarily bode well for Ai Wu and Yang, however.
"If you refuse to plead guilty on two occasions, they refer it to a higher court, and if you refuse to plead guilty on two occasions before the higher court, they will hold you in contempt of court," Li said. "Contempt of court charges don't require a plea; they can just throw you in jail regardless."
He said the couple is currently applying for their release on bail, but need to fulfill very specific conditions.
"To be granted bail by a Thai court, you have to meet very specific conditions," Li said. "They may not make bail if they don't meet those conditions."
Fellow refugee Wang Xili said Ai Wu has been on hunger strike since Tuesday in protest at her detention.
"I am extremely worried about her, because she's been in there for more than 10 days now ... about her health problems as well as the impact on her mental health," Wang said. "I am afraid she will suffer a mental breakdown."
"She is under a huge amount of pressure ... You can see the despair and frustration in her eyes," he said.
Pressure from China
Human Rights Watch (HRW) Asia researcher Maya Wang said Beijing could be putting pressure on the Thai authorities behind the scenes to repatriate the couple.
"We are concerned that the Chinese government is probably putting pressure on the Thai government to repatriate them to China," Wang told RFA. "They have succeeded in having U.N.-recognized refugees repatriated in the past."
"It's not yet entirely clear whether Thailand will give in to pressure from China, or whether it will stick to due legal process," she said.
In July, authorities in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing jailed two rights activists sent home from Thailand as they were awaiting resettlement as political refugees, prompting an international outcry.
Dong Guangping and Jiang Yefei fled with their families to Thailand in 2015, and were granted refugee status by the UNHCR office in Bangkok.
But as they awaited resettlement in a third country, they were handed over to China by the Thai police, in a move that drew strong criticism from the U.N.
Dong and Jiang were both found guilty of "incitement to subvert state power" and "illegally crossing a national border" by a court in Chongqing.
Jiang received a six-and-a-half-year jail term, while Dong was sentenced to three-and-a-half years, their relatives said, citing phone calls with police and online reports.
Yang and Ai Wu were initially targeted by Chinese police after taking part in the press freedom protests in the southern city of Guangzhou in January 2013.
They fled the country in February 2015 and made their way to Thailand after Ai Wu started a support group for disappeared rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. In Thailand, they eked out an existence without papers in the country's Pattaya region.
They were approved as political refugees by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok in 2017, but had yet to be accepted for resettlement in a third country amid a global tightening of national immigration policies.
Ai Wu and Yang were detained along with He Weiyi outside the New Zealand Embassy in Bangkok, where they had hoped to persuade New Zealand officials to consider them for resettlement.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.