A Chinese woman who helped to expose the abuse of women inmates at the infamous Masanjia labor camp has fled China to seek political asylum in Thailand, she told RFA in a recent interview.
Hao Wei, who hails from the northeastern province of Liaoning, arrived in Bangkok earlier this month, and has applied for refugee status with the United Nations, she said.
"I got here on Oct. 10, and went to fill out the forms at the U.N. High Commission For Refugees (UNHCR) [on Thursday]," she said. "They have already called me with an appointment for me to submit all of my evidence."
Late-stage cancer patient Hao, who is in Thailand with her daughter, said her case is based on 10 years of persecution at the hands of the authorities after she persisted in complaints about local government officials.
"I am arguing that I was detained, sent to labor camp and illegally locked up in a black jail in a hotel basement," she said. "After I got out of the labor camp I discovered I had cancer, and now it's already at an advanced stage."
She said she had received nothing but stonewalling and abuse back home in China.
"Not only did they not address or resolve my complaint; they even filed a report to the central government claiming that my case was resolved and closed," she said.
Daily torture and abuse
Hao's petitioning activities resulted in her incarceration in Masanjia labor camp for nearly a year, during which time she was forced to work at least nine hours a day.
"I was locked up in a labor camp on Jan. 9, 2012, and released on Dec. 30 the same year," Hao told RFA. "In the winters we would have to get up before dawn and start work, and come back in the evening by moon and starlight."
Former inmates have detailed a regime of daily torture and abuse, failure of medical care, and grueling overtime at Masanjia, a police-run facility where women regarded as troublemakers by the authorities were sent without trial for up to four years at a time.
China's National People's Congress (NPC) voted on Dec. 28, 2013, to end the system of administrative punishments known in Chinese as "re-education through labor," or laojiao, but lawyers and inmates' families say many of the camps are still in operation under a different name.
In 2014, former Masanjia inmate Liu Hua was criminally detained after she took part in a harrowing documentary that exposed widespread abuses at the camp.
In the film, titled "Above the Ghosts' Heads: The Women of Masanjia Labor Camp" and directed by Du Bin, Liu described how camp guards beat the female detainees, used electric batons to shock their breasts, inserted the batons and poured chilli peppers into their vaginas and put them into various torture devices such as "the Death Bed" and "the Tiger's Bench."
Hao is now living with a cancer diagnosis, while many of her former fellow inmates at Masanjia have already died of various cancers, according to Beijing-based rights activist Li Wei.
"[Hao] used to talk about wanting to leave the country, partly because the standard of medical care was higher," Li said. "She also hoped she'd be able to do some human rights work."
Under pressure in Thailand
Chinese political asylum-seekers are continuing to flee to military junta-ruled Thailand in spite of a growing willingness by authorities there to detain and repatriate refugees, who now feel increasingly vulnerable.
Last November, Chongqing-based activists Dong Guangping and Jiang Yefei were handed back to Chinese authorities in a move that drew strong criticism from the U.N., which had already classified them as genuine political refugees.
They are now in criminal detention in Chongqing, where they face subversion charges, while their families have been resettled in Canada.
In a further indication that the country is no longer the safe haven it once was for Chinese dissidents, Tianjin democracy activist Liu Xiaoying was beaten up on the streets of Bangkok on Oct. 3 by unidentified men, he told RFA.
"I think this was planned; they'd prepared for it," Liu told RFA on Friday. "I think it was intended as some kind of warning."
Fellow Thailand-based asylum-seeker Li Minwei said he was subjected to a similar attack outside a 7-11 convenience store in Bangkok on Wednesday by two unidentified men riding electric bicycles who tried to talk to him and them punched him when he gestured to show he didn't understand.
"We feel very helpless and afraid here," Li told RFA. "We dare not fight back; we just have to walk away."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.