Chinese Dissident Couple Granted Bail in Thailand

Pimuk Rakkanam and Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2018-09-21
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180921_TH_CH_dissidents_600.jpg Wu Yuhua (left), is shown with supporters after being released on bail in Bangkok, Thailand, Sept. 21, 2018.
Photo provided by a supporter

Updated at 5 p.m. ET on 2018-09-21

A Thai appeals court on Friday granted bail to Chinese dissidents Wu Yuhua, who was released, and Yang Chong, who face charges of violating Thai immigration law despite holding United Nations documents describing them as refugees.

Wu, who is also known by her nickname Ai Wu, was detained by police in Bangkok with her husband Yang on Aug. 29 and locked up in an immigration detention center. Unlike his wife, Yang has not been able to raise the required bail to leave the detention center.

"Because we do not have enough money to pay the bail, my husband, Yang Chong, is still detained by police. We cannot bail him out at this time," Wu told Radio Free Asia, a sister entity of BenarNews.

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 BenarNews reporter heard in the courtroom.

“The bail bond for each is 300,000 baht ($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 but brightened when a translator informed her of the bail grant around midday.

Yang, jailed in Bangkok Remand Prison, appeared healthier but was chained around the ankles during the court appearance.

They were initially targeted by Chinese police after taking part in the press freedom protests in the southern city of Guangzhou in January 2013.

Existence without papers

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.

Lawyers from advocacy group Center for Asylum Protection posted bail for Wu at midafternoon. A group member who refused to give her name told BenarNews supporters of the couple had been able to raise only half the total amount.

An official at Central Women’s Correction Institute on the outskirts of Bangkok informed BenarNews by phone at around 8:30 p.m. that Wu had been released. Other sources said Yang's supporters were trying to raise funds to make his bail.

In a related development, a senior official at the Lumpini police station in Bangkok told the court that police will charge Wu for illegal entry and Yang for overstaying a visa.  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 asked why they were arrested, Wiwat said: “They made disturbance at the New Zealand Embassy so 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

Police determined 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 three 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 scheduled court action, saying they had not seen the case file.

Wu is prepared to go to court.

"I guess the police will charge us. If he (Yang) is charged in the court, he will be put in the immigration jail and he will lose hope for a bailout," Wu said.

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 6½-year jail term, while Dong was sentenced to 3½ 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 suffers harsh repression under Chinese rule.

Radio Free Asia contributed to this report.

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