Missing Laos-based activist Qiao Xinxin resurfaces in a Chinese detention center

Qiao's repatriation highlights the Chinese Communist Party's 'long-arm' cross-border law enforcement operations.
By Gao Feng for RFA Mandarin
2023.08.09
Missing Laos-based activist Qiao Xinxin resurfaces in a Chinese detention center Qiao Xinxin, who launched a campaign to end internet censorship in China, known as the BanGFW Movement, holds a statement in an April 20, 2023, Twitter post in which he calls on activists to stage protests outside China's embassies around the world should he fail to post to his social media accounts for 48 hours.
Credit: Ban_GFW Twitter

Free-speech activist Qiao Xinxin, who was reported missing in Vientiane in June amid reports of his arrest by Chinese police, is being held in a detention center in the central Chinese province of Hunan, according to overseas activists familiar with the matter.

Qiao, whose birth name is Yang Zewei, went missing, believed detained on or around May 31 in Vientiane, after launching an online campaign to end internet censorship in China, known as the BanGFW Movement, a reference to the Great Firewall, according to fellow activists.

Now, his family have been informed that he is being held in a juvenile detention center in Hunan's Hengyang city in another example of China’s cross-border law enforcement activities, Netherlands-based activist Lin Shengliang told Radio Free Asia.

"They issued legal documentation at 3.10 p.m. on July 7, saying where he was being held," Lin said. "But [his family] were unwilling to share the specific charge with me, perhaps because they felt it wasn't a good idea to speak out – they have a lot of fear and doubt."

Lin said it was unclear whether Qiao would get a visit from his family members, however.

"His parents want to go visit, but I told them the authorities wouldn't allow that," he said. "They may find a lawyer who could go and meet with him at the detention center."

200 Chinese police in Vientiane

Qiao had lived in Laos for several years before launching the BanGFW Movement, yet was believed to have been detained by Chinese police in Vientiane.

Canada-based Li Jianfeng, a former Chinese judge, told Radio Free Asia earlier this month that 200 Chinese police officers were billeted in a Vientiane hotel, amid growing concerns that rights lawyer Lu Siwei will also be repatriated to China after being detained by immigration police.

Lu's disappearance sparked international criticism amid ongoing concerns around the Chinese Communist Party's "long-arm" law enforcement operations, which have included running secret police "service stations" in dozens of countries, according to the Spain-based rights group Safeguard Defenders.

"This was 100% a cross-border arrest," Netherlands-based activist Lin Shengliang told Radio Free Asia. Credit: Courtesy file photo
"This was 100% a cross-border arrest," Netherlands-based activist Lin Shengliang told Radio Free Asia. Credit: Courtesy file photo

Lin said Qiao had clearly met with the same fate.

"This was 100% a cross-border arrest," he said. "Unfortunately it didn't receive enough attention from the international community to help."

"I think that [the international outcry over Lu Siwei] could have a helpful effect," Lin said.

U.S.-based rights lawyer Wang Qingpeng said Qiao's anti-censorship campaign was brave, and highly representative of public opinion in China.

"The Chinese won't have a safe, free and democratic place to live until more people stand up against tyranny," she said. "Like most ordinary people, [Qiao] really detests the Great Firewall, and had hoped to bring it down, so that the whole world would pay attention, and the Chinese people would know the truth."

"But anyone who tells the truth faces greater risks, whether at home or abroad, and particularly in Southeast Asian countries," Wang said. 

Greater risks in Southeast Asia

Gambling tycoon She Zhijiang, whose casinos have been linked with massive human trafficking and online scam operations in the region, was arrested by Thai police in August 2022 and faces repatriation to China despite being a naturalized citizen of Cambodia.

In November 2022, police in Bangkok Police detained an exiled Chinese dissident l after he staged a lone street protest against Chinese leader Xi Jinping inspired by the Oct. 13 "bridge man" protest in Beijing.

Veteran rights activist Li Nanfei, who has been stranded in Thailand for several years despite being a United Nations-registered refugee, was arrested after holding up a placard on a Bangkok street that read: "His Majesty President Xi, put an end to dictatorship in China! Give the people back their freedom!"

Earlier in the same month, Adiyaa, an ethnic Mongolian Chinese national who fled the country after his involvement in 2020 protests over a ban on Mongolian-medium teaching in schools, reported being held by Chinese state security police in Bangkok.

In 2019, Thai police detained two Chinese refugees – Jia Huajiang and Liu Xuehong – who had earlier helped jailed rights website founder Huang Qi before fleeing the country. 

Thailand has sent refugees from China back home in the past.

And in July 2018, authorities in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing jailed rights activist Dong Guangping and political cartoonist Jiang Yefei after they were sent home from Thailand as they were awaiting resettlement as political refugees, prompting an international outcry.


Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

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