UPDATED at 05:30 p.m. EST on 09/21/2018
A Thai appeals court on Friday granted bail to Chinese dissidents Wu Yuhua and Yang Chong, who face charges of violating Thai immigration law despite holding United Nations documents describing them as refugees.
Wu Yuhua, who is also known by her nickname Ai Wu, was detained by police in Bangkok with her husband Yang Chong on Aug. 29 and locked up in an immigration detention center.
They had lodged a bail application last week in a bid to stall attempts to repatriate them to China, where they fear political reprisals at the hands of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
The judge at the Pathumwan Municipal Court read out an appeals court’s ruling that the couple deserved bail because of “the nature of the relatively lenient charges and the good behavior of the couple,” a reporter for BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, heard in the courtroom.
“The bail bond for each is 300,000 baht [U.S. $9,240],” said the judge, overruling a lower court’s denial of bail last week. “They are not allowed to leave the country without court’s approval.”
Clad in a prison uniform and a surgical mask, Wu Yuhua looked sickly in court but brightened when a translator informed her of the bail grant around midday.
Yang Chong, jailed in Bangkok Remand Prison, appeared healthier but was chained at the ankles during the court appearance.
Lawyers from the Center for Asylum Protection, an advocacy group, posted bail for Wu Yuhua at midafternoon.
One of them who refused to give her name told BenarNews that supporters of the couple had been able to raise only half the total amount.
An official at the Central Women’s Correction Institute on the outskirts of Bangkok informed BenarNews by phone at around 8:30 p.m. in the evening that Wu Yuhua had been released.
Other sources said that Yang's supporters were still trying to raise funds to make his bail.
Speaking to RFA's Mandarin Service following her release on bail, Wu Yuhua said that conditions in detention had damaged her health.
"Because the sanitation there is so bad, I now have some gynecological problems. I also have some problems with my stomach, and a sore throat that I had has now developed into bronchitis," she said.
"My husband, Yang Chong, is still detained by the police," Wu said. "We did not have enough money to pay his bail."
"But our case will be heard in court next Wednesday, and if we are charged in court, he will be put into an immigration jail and he will lose all hope of being bailed out."
Also speaking to RFA, a supporter named Yu Yanhua said that the cost of Wu's and Yang's bail had steadily increased after they were detained.
"We were told on the evening of Aug. 29, when they were caught by the police, that we could pay just 10,000 baht to get them out, but we could not pay it that night."
But after the case came to court, the amount jumped to 60,000 baht, and the next day it increased again to 250,000 baht, Yu said.
"When we finally bailed Wu out, we actually paid 300,000 baht," Yu said, adding, "This situation is really devastating for all political refugees from China."
Existence without papers
Yang and 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 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.
In a related development, a senior official at the Lumpini police station in Bangkok told the court that police will charge Ai Wu for illegal entry and Yang Chong on overstaying a visa next Wednesday at the same courtroom. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of two years in jail.
“We will file the lawsuits Wednesday,” Police Lt. Wiwat Naklada told the judge.
When BenarNews asked why they were arrested, Wiwat said: “They made disturbance at the New Zealand Embassy so that they were caught by the security guards and they were sent over to the police station.”
Wu and Yang were detained on Aug. 29 along with another Chinese national named He Weiyi outside the New Zealand Embassy in Bangkok, where they had hoped to persuade New Zealand officials to consider them for resettlement.
Thai laws violated
The police found they had violated Thai immigration laws, regardless of their UNHCR status, she said.
“The man entered Thailand legally with tourist visa via Suvarnabhumi Airport but the visa was expired 3 years ago,” she told BenarNews, citing immigration records. “He will face overstaying visa charge.”
“Then woman will face the charge of illegal entry and illegal staying. We don’t see any records to show that she entered the country legally,” she said.
Lawyers with the Center for Asylum Protection declined to comment on Wednesday’s court action, saying they had not seen the case file yet.
Thailand has sent refugees from China back home in the past.
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.
In July 2015, Thailand forcibly repatriated nearly 100 Uyghurs to China, a move that drew criticism from United Nations officials and human rights groups. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said it was shocked at the deportation of a group believed to include women and children who did not wish to return to China, where the Turkic-speaking Muslim minority that suffers harsh repression under Chinese rule.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, with additional reporting by RFA's Mandarin Service.