Thai authorities in Bangkok have repatriated five Chinese nationals, including two veteran dissidents who had been granted refugee status by the United Nations, Thailand-based activists told RFA on Monday.
A Bangkok-based democracy activist who gave only his surname Li said Dong Guangping, Jiang Yefei and three other Chinese nationals had been sent back to China on Friday.
"I had planned to go and visit [Jiang and Dong] this morning, but when I got to the immigration detention center, the police officer couldn't find their names," Li said.
"I went to two more departments after that, and they couldn't find them either, until a police officer told me that they had both been sent back to China last Friday," he said. "There was a group of five people in total."
Li said it was unclear whether the five had been sent across the border, or whether Chinese personnel had arrived in Thailand to fetch them.
"We are trying to find that out right now, as well as why the United Nations was unable to protect either of them," he said. "We want to know the reason."
"All of their family and friends had been very worried that this would happen, and we call on the international community to follow their case," Li said.
"This is very serious."
'We are all terrified'
Dong 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. His wife Chu Shuhua remains in Bangkok.
Political cartoonist Jiang had been in Thailand since 2008 when he fled China, 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).
His wife, Chu Ling, who remains in Bangkok, said the two men had been charged with illegally entering the country before they were deported.
According to Li, Dong and Jiang had pleaded guilty to the charges, and were fined 5,000 (U.S. $139) and 6,000 baht (U.S. $167) respectively for the offense.
However, their guilty plea paved the way for deportation procedures to begin, and the Chinese government had paid the fines on their behalf, he said.
Thailand-based activist Yang Chong said the identities of the other three deportees remains unclear.
"If they were deported to China, then they were definitely Chinese nationals, but we don't know who they are," Yang told RFA on Monday.
He said the deportation had thrown Chinese refugees and activists in Thailand into a state of fear.
"People keep texting me to ask what they should do; we are trying to think of something," Yang said. "Things are pretty dangerous right now; we are all terrified."
Those who apply for political asylum at the UNHCR are issued with a "protection letter" while their application for resettlement is under way, a process which can take years.
Rights activist Cao Jinbo, who arrived in Thailand at the beginning of this month, said the Chinese police had apparently also managed to detain Hong Kong publisher and bookshop-owner Gui Minhai during a visit to Thailand.
"It seems that [China] is already able to arrest people overseas, unofficially, which is illegal kidnapping," Cao told RFA.
He said Beijing's new national security law, enacted on July 1, had enshrined the principle that Chinese law is enforceable overseas.
"A protection letter is of no use at all," Cao said. "Dong and Jiang had already been granted refugee status, but [UNHCR] was unable to guarantee their safety."
Jiang told RFA's Cantonese Service last month that he had fled China in desperation after long-running persecution at the hands of the communist party.
"I am a Protestant Christian, so how could I be happy after two years of persecution by the Chinese Communist Party?" he said in an Oct. 1 interview.
"Every day I prayed to the Lord to annihilate this evil regime."
Earlier this month, four Chinese nationals linked to a Hong Kong bookstore which has stocked titles highly critical of the communist party went missing, believed detained by Chinese authorities.
Owner Gui Minhai was in Thailand at the time, but he, general manager Lu Bo, store manager Lin Rongji, and staff member Zhang Zhiping of publisher and bookstore company Sage Communications are now believed to be in police custody in China.
Fellow Hong Kong publisher Wu Yisan said such heavy-handed tactics will only further alienate the city's residents from Beijing after just 17 years of Chinese rule.
"The [Chinese authorities] should have taken immediate steps to inform the people of Hong Kong, not leave them guessing in a state of fear," Wu said.
Reported by Wen Yuqing and Ho Shan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.