Thai authorities have detained a Chinese college student and political asylum-seeker for having an expired passport, raising concerns that he will be sent home, where he has reported being detained and beaten repeatedly by state security police.
Xu Zhenxin, 19, was detained on Sunday after Thai police asked for his identification en route to the northern city of Chiang Rai, where he had hoped to find work, activists told Radio Free Asia, a sister entity of BenarNews, on Friday.
Fellow Chinese national and Thailand-based asylum-seeker Lu Taizhi said he got a call from Xu, saying he was in police custody.
“He was on his way to Chiang Rai when he ran into some police, who asked to see his passport,” Lu said, adding that Xu had applied for political asylum with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). “His passport had expired.”
“I informed UNHCR on Monday morning around 9a.m. local time,” he said.
Fellow refugee Liu Xiaoying said Xu is being held in the Bangkok Immigration Detention Center alongside another Chinese refugee.
Calls to the detention center in Bangkok rang unanswered during office hours on Friday.
Xu arrived in Thailand last November after taking a cross-border bus to Vietnam and a flight to Bangkok.
He had already received approval for resettlement as a political asylum-seeker, and held a UNHCR letter of protection.
A former freshman student at the Nanjing Post and Telecommunications University, Xu described himself as a political activist who frequently handed out leaflets calling for democratic reform on the streets of the city.
He had been interrogated several times by the city's state security police, who had beaten him at least twice, fellow refugees said.
He also spent a week in a “black jail,” an unofficial detention center, they said.
Xu’s detention comes amid a growing climate of fear for Chinese dissidents who have sought political refuge in Thailand.
Meanwhile, asylum-seeker Li Xiaolong, whose wife Gu Qiao is facing deportation for illegal immigration after the family were rescued from the wreck of a sailing yacht off the coast of southern Thailand, has been protesting outside UNHCR offices for the past month at a lack of action on their case.
Li said he was allowed to meet with UNHCR officials on Friday to discuss the family's plight.
Li, who speaks no Thai, has no current means of supporting the couple’s youngest son.
Torture risk in China
He has complained to U.N. officials that he lacks money to buy milk powder for the child, but they referred him to a refugee camp, he said.
“Partly this is about saving Gu Qiao [from deportation], and partly it’s about my own circumstances and my personal safety,” said Li, who was detained in early March with his wife, the couple’s two children, and fellow refugee Song Zhiyu after a yacht they chartered to sail to Australia capsized off the Thai coast.
Gu, who holds no passport, is being held in an immigration detention center, and recently pleaded guilty to immigration offenses, paving the way for her repatriation.
Li was released on bail with the children, while another refugee who sailed with them, Zhao Wei, was released because he holds a valid Thai visa, as were two other members of the yacht’s crew.
Gu was later transferred to the Bangkok Immigration Detention Center from a similar facility in Chumphon, where the rescue operation took place.
Li said Friday's meeting with UNHCR officials was not a success, however.
“There was no Chinese-language interpreter today, so it was impossible to communicate with the officials on Gu Qiao’s case,” he said.
Calls to the UNHCR representative office in Bangkok rang unanswered during office hours on Friday.
Li, a founding member of the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP) from the southwestern province of Guangxi, escaped China with his family in 2014, before being classified a genuine refugee by UNHCR.
He had set up a local chapter of the party while in Thailand, and was also vocal in the campaign to prevent the repatriation of Chongqing-based activists Dong Guangping and Jiang Yefei.
Jiang and Dong, who had fled persecution in their home country, were handed back to Chinese authorities last November, in a move that drew strong criticism from the U.N. They are in criminal detention in Chongqing, where they face subversion charges.
Jiang’s wife Chu Ling, and Dong's wife Gu Shuhua and daughter Dong Xuerui flew to Canada from Bangkok for resettlement as political refugees just days after the two men were repatriated. They now fear Jiang and Dong are now at risk of torture and other violations of their rights.