Chinese rights activist Xiang Li arrived in San Francisco on July 27 after fleeing China to claim political refugee status in Thailand. She reveals in a recent interview with RFA's Mandarin Service how agents of the Chinese state are able to exert power over dissidents even beyond its borders:
RFA: Can you tell us about your experiences in Thailand?
Xiang Li: On the first day that I arrived at the immigration detention center in Thailand, there was a so-called "refugee" from China who took photos of me. He asked me my full name and why I was there.
My guess is that they passed on all of my details and the photos to the Chinese embassy. The clearest indication of this was that about 10 minutes before I was due to leave for the airport with my ticket for July 23 and my humanitarian visa issued by the United States, I saw a Chinese "inmate" spot me, and immediately make a phone call. I think he was calling the Chinese embassy.
Just a few minutes later, the Thai immigration authorities told me I shouldn't proceed to the airport because my flight had been canceled, and that certain people wanted to carry out a background check on me.
Sure enough, five people from the Chinese Embassy showed up to carry out that background check, and made me fill out a very long form in Chinese and English. I told them I wanted to call my lawyer, because I didn't know who they were, even though they had told me they were from the Chinese embassy.
I felt that sense of threat very keenly, that strong feeling of fear that this regime of terror had managed to inspire in me, in spite of the fact that I was already in Thailand. They went all the way to the immigration detention center just to threaten me. That's how crazy things have gotten.
RFA: How many Chinese political refugees are currently in Thailand?
Xiang Li: There are a lot of Chinese asylum-seekers in Thailand: several hundred or more. They come from very diverse backgrounds, and that makes it hard for the United Nations to tell the genuine asylum-seekers from the frauds. That's why the process takes such a long time.
Some genuine refugees have been in Thailand for a long time, some for four or five years, and they still haven't gotten an interview appointment at the UNHCR. They are forced to work illegally, and are constantly at risk of being reported to the authorities, and of being secretly detained and sent back to China by Chinese secret police operating in Thailand.
They also run the risk of being "dealt with" by mafia-style methods, such as being followed, watched, and threatened. So life is very tough for Chinese refugees there. They have to worry about making a living, as well as a cross-border threat from a regime of terror.
Reported by C.K. for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.