Chinese Rights Activist Disappears After Boarding Train in Thailand

Special to BenarNews
160122-TH-Li-620 Li Xin, a Chinese journalist who went into exile, appears in an undated photo.
Courtesy of Li Xin

Updated at 4:46 p.m. ET on 2016-02-03

A rights activist from China went missing more than 10 days ago after boarding a train in Thailand, en route to Laos and eventually western countries where he planned to seek political asylum, his wife said Thursday.

Li Xin, a columnist for the Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper of Guangdong, China, was last heard from on Jan. 10, his wife He Fangxian said in an interview.

She said she suddenly lost contact with him a day after he boarded a train bound for Nong Khai, a town on Thailand’s northeastern border, where he planned to enter Laos.

A friend tried to report the case to the Thai police, but the report was rejected, she said.

“They asked, ‘Why you didn’t you report this to the Chinese embassy,’” said He, who remains in China.

“But I am not in Thailand, so there is no way to get to the Chinese embassy,” she said. “After all, I cannot leave, so I have no choice.”


Li had tried to defect to India four months ago, but lost his bid for asylum there. He fled to New Delhi in October after being recruited by China’s state security police to spy on other activists, with the threat of espionage charges hanging over him.

A formerly active campaigner for democratic reform and human rights in China, Li said earlier that authorities had pressured him to become an informant after he posted comments online in support of blind Shandong rights activist Chen Guangcheng.

After arriving in India, Li made public confidential documents from his time at the newspaper, which included a secret list of topics and sources off limits to media outlets.

Li could not be granted political asylum in India, because the country does not accept applications from Chinese nationals. He then applied for a tourist visa at the American embassy in New Delhi, but his application was rejected.

He arrived in Thailand on Jan. 1 and boarded the train for Laos nine days later, according to his wife.

Laotian authorities

If Shi cannot get any information about Li’s disappearance from police in Thailand, she will try to get information from Lao authorities, she said.

“But now the situation is that Thai authorities have refused to accept Li’s case, so how can I go to Laos?” He Fangxian said.

Last December, authorities in the southern Chinese province Guangdong prevented Shi and the couple’s infant son from leaving the country to join Li after his attempted defection.

Border officials in Shenzhen stopped the two as they tried to cross into neighboring Hong Kong, which has maintained its own internal immigration border since its 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

At the time, Li said he believed authorities slapped the exit ban on his wife and child as a form of retaliation after he leaked information about the inner workings of the Chinese government’s propaganda machine.

The journalist's vanishing is the latest in a string of disappearances of China-related activists in Southeast Asia, according to the Associated Press.

Last October, Hong Kong publisher Gui Minhai disappeared suddenly from his apartment in Pattaya, a Thai beach resort. Gui reappeared this week on Chinese state TV, where he said he had returned to China to turn himself in for an old crime, the AP said.

Four other people connected to the same Hong Kong publishing company, which sells books banned in China about Chinese politics, have disappeared.

An earlier version incorrectly identified Li Xin's wife as Shi Sanmei.


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