A Bangkok court on Friday found Chinese dissident Yang Chong guilty of violating Thailand’s immigration law by staying in the country after his visa expired, but ruled he would not have to go to prison.
The Pathumwan Municipal Court handed down its ruling after putting Yang on trial for one day earlier this week. On Friday, the court tried his wife and fellow dissident, Wu Yuhua, on similar immigration law charges. A verdict in her case is expected in December, court officials said.
“From the witnesses and evidence, the court found Mr. Yang Chong guilty and sentenced him to a six-month jail term and a fine of 10,000 baht (U.S. $303), but he is permitted a one-year probation because the defendant has no criminal record,” the court ruled.
The defendant would not have to pay the fine, the court said, because he had spent 30 days in custody while the case was being investigated, and each day of detention was worth 500 baht (U.S. $15) in fines.
“Yang was detained longer than the fine. Therefore, he does not have to pay the fine and will be released without supervision,” the court said.
Yang Chong and Wu Yuhua were arrested on Aug. 29 along with another Chinese national outside the New Zealand Embassy in Bangkok where they had hoped to persuade New Zealand officials to consider them for resettlement there.
Yang told the court he went to the embassy to request asylum but was detained following an argument over his request.
Warissara Rungthong, a lawyer with the People Serving People foundation, said it would assist the couple in their efforts to resettle in a third country as soon as possible.
“They are currently in the process of seeking asylum. There will be interviews, physical exams and other information inquiries. The foundation will try to get them to travel to the third country soon,” the lawyer said.
Despite the positive ruling, Wu told BenarNews she was concerned for her husband.
“I still worry that Yang Chong will be pushed back [to China] while waiting to resettle to the third country,” Wu said.
Yang and Wu initially were targeted by Chinese police after taking part in press freedom protests in the southern city of Guangzhou in January 2013.
They fled China 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.
Thailand has sent refugees from China back home in the past.
In July, authorities in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing jailed rights activist Dong Guangping and political cartoonist Jiang Yefei after they were sent home from Thailand as they were awaiting resettlement as political refugees, prompting an international outcry.
Radio Free Asia (RFA), a sister entity of BenarNews, contributed to this report.