Daring Sailboat Escape by Chinese Dissidents Ends in Rescue, Detention by Taiwan


2015.09.17
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china-sailboat-dissidents-sept-2015.jpg (From L-R) Chinese dissidents Wang Rui, Lu Ning, Su Qianlong, Shi Jian, Wang Rui and Yang Lu Yini prepare to leave Taiwan for Guam in a sailboat, September 2015.
Photo courtesy of Chen Rongli

Last month, three Chinese dissidents from the southwestern megacity of Chongqing escaped by boat to Taiwan, before attempting a hazardous journey across the Pacific Ocean with two other Chinese dissidents, to Guam.

Lu Ning, Su Qianlong and Shi Jian,bought a small sailing boat with an auxiliary engine in China's eastern Shandong province for around 200,000 yuan (U.S. $31,400), before sailing through the East China Sea and across the Taiwan Strait to the democratic island of Taiwan.

Their first voyage took a circuitous route, as they lost their way several times, with more than 30 days and at least a thousand kilometers (620 miles) at sea before they arrived in Taiwanese waters.

The three picked up Wang Rui and Yang Lu Yini in Taiwan, and the five escapees had planned to apply for political asylum from the U.S. government on the Pacific island of Guam.

But the group, who are all in their twenties and thirties, never got that far.

Instead, their boat ran into difficulties during strong winds and high waves off the island's coast, and they were forced to appeal to the Taiwan authorities for help.

"On the afternoon of Sept. 12, we found a boat with four men and a woman aboard near Nanshalun [in Taiwan waters]," a marine rescue bureau told reporters at the time.

"We are dealing with this according to law, and the details of the investigation are not being made public," the official said.

Marine rescue team members were more forthcoming, however.

"They're lucky to be alive, in such big waves and such high winds, you have no idea," one rescue team member told RFA after the five were detained and their heavily damaged boat impounded.

"The sail had already been ripped from the mast ... this was very silly of them, because they don't have any seafaring experience."

"There's no way that boat could have got them to Guam, more than 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) away," the official said. "They would have drowned before they got there."

Potential charges

Now, the group faces potential charges over illegal immigration and deportation back to the mainland, they told RFA.

"We hope that the Taiwan authorities will help us get to the United States, because we want to apply for political asylum there," Wang Rui said.

"We know it's not easy for the Taiwan government ... we are just hoping they will take a lenient attitude, and don't shatter the faith of Chinese people who are trying to find freedom," he said.

Wang, who arrived in Taiwan a year ago on a package tour with his girlfriend Yang Lu, said all five activists have been targeted by the authorities for their human rights and political activism, including being held in detention and placed under surveillance by state security police.

The couple never boarded their plane home, and now also face deportation, he said.

"I think that if we are sent back, we will definitely be at risk of torture and mistreatment," Wang said. "We will definitely go to jail; that's a given."

"Everyone knows what kind of a party the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party is," he said.

Fellow Chinese dissident Chen Rongli, who was also detained for months after escaping to Taiwan a decade ago, is now helping the activists press their case with the Taiwan authorities, who say they face the task of distinguishing genuine asylum seekers from communist spies when dissidents flee across the Taiwan Strait.

"They want to set out their participation in the Chinese democracy movement for the U.S. government, and I have been helping them write their testimony and keep it with them at all times, as well as documentary evidence of their persecution at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party, such as detention documents," Chen said.

"They hope to be able to show these to U.S. officials," Chen added.

Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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