Missing Chinese journalist Li Xin under investigation in China: Wife

BEIJING (REUTERS) - A Chinese journalist and rights activist who disappeared in Thailand last month is in police custody in China and is under investigation, his wife said on Thursday (Feb 4).

Li Xin, a former writer for the Southern Metropolis Daily, a respected semi-independent newspaper, arrived in Thailand from India on Jan 1 and boarded a train to the northeastern border town of Nong Khai where he tried to enter Laos, his wife, Shi Sanmei, said last month.

Li had fled to India after state security authorities in China tried to recruit him to spy on activists, Radio Free Asia reported.

Shi told Reuters her husband had told her by telephone that he was now in China. She declined to comment further citing pressure from law enforcement authorities.

It is unclear where Li is being held.

Police in the northern Chinese province of Henan, where Li's wife is, could not be reached for comment.

Asked about the case, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said questions should be directed to the "relevant authorities". The ministry has previously said it knew nothing about the case.

A Thailand-based friend of the couple who asked not to be identified citing fear of official repercussions, said Li told his wife he had returned to China voluntarily to cooperate with an investigation, though its nature was not clear.

"It's been extremely tough for them," the friend said, adding that Li's wife was pregnant and was also caring for their 2-year-old son. "We're all very worried about the situation."

Li's case comes as the leadership has widens a crackdown on rights lawyers and other activists, which has triggered international condemnation.

His reappearance in China from Thailand mirrors that of Swedish national and bookseller Gui Minhai, who disappeared from the Thai resort town of Pattaya in October.

Gui appeared on Chinese state television last month, stating he had turned himself in to Chinese authorities over a fatal drunken driving case more than a decade ago.

China's Foreign Ministry, asked this week if Chinese authorities had abducted Gui, said its law enforcement officials would never do anything illegal, especially not overseas.