A former Chinese newspaper columnist who disappeared in Southeast Asia last month after fleeing China in search of political asylum is back in his homeland, “assisting police with an investigation,” his wife said.
Li Xin, who once wrote for the cutting-edge Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper in Guangzhou, fled China last July, initially traveling to New Delhi where his application for political asylum and his U.S. visa application were both turned down.
He later left India, and was last heard from on Jan. 11 after boarding a train in Thailand en route to Laos.
His wife, He Fangxian, who remained in China with the couple’s only child, said she spoke with Li by phone on Wednesday from a police station near the couple’s current home in the central province of Henan.
“He told me he was submitting to investigation on a voluntary basis, and that it would be concluded very soon,” she said. “He told me to relax and have a happy [Chinese] New Year.”
She went to a local police station to take the call.
“When Li Xin spoke to me, he didn’t say where he is right now; he didn’t want me to know,” she said. “He just said he is back in China under investigation.
“He said it would be better for him and for me if I took it easy, and that he hoped there would be a result soon.”
But Li said nothing about where he is being held, nor the reason for the investigation, she said.
“I am guessing he’s probably in Xinxiang [Henan province], because the state security police who called me were from Xinxiang,” He said.
An officer who answered the phone at the Xinxiang police station declined to comment on Li's whereabouts.
“We don’t know where he is ... his wife asked us to look into it, and we made enquiries with the relevant authorities,” she said.
“We only know what they told us. There were several higher departments involved, and we couldn’t even figure out where he is.”
She said the case against Li did not originate in his hometown.
“This isn’t our case. We were just helping (He Fangxian) because she reported him missing, and we were trying to find out for her.”
The officer said local police had no direct dealings with Li. “Only his wife spoke with him directly.”
Pressured to inform
Li Xin, a former campaigner for democratic reform and human rights, said state security police pressured him to become an informant by threatening him with criminal charges after he posted comments online in support of blind Shandong rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who is now a visiting scholar in the United States.
After arriving in New Delhi, Li also revealed some of the inner workings of the Chinese propaganda regime, including a secret list of topics and sources off limits to media organizations.
China’s police recently set up a special unit to detain “fugitives” who flee the country, sparking fears that the ruling Chinese Communist Party is expanding its law enforcement activities far beyond its borders to target dissident asylum-seekers.
Li’s repatriation comes amid growing concerns among rights activists and lawyers over the clandestine detention of critics of the Chinese government outside the country, several of whom have been picked up in Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Hong Kong by means of opaque and undocumented procedures in recent months.