China activist goes missing en route to Laos from Thailand

Disappearance raises fears that he may have suffered same fate as missing HK booksellers

A former columnist from China seeking asylum abroad has gone missing on the way from Thailand to Laos.

The disappearance of Mr Li Xin, who reportedly leaked confidential information about the Chinese government's propaganda efforts, has raised fears that he may have suffered the same fate as five men linked to a Hong Kong publishing house that printed unflattering books about Beijing's leaders.

All five vanished in recent months. One, a Swedish citizen, went missing outside his apartment in the Thai seaside town of Pattaya last October, only to surface in a Chinese television broadcast this week confessing to fleeing a drink-driving conviction.

The developments had triggered protests in Hong Kong and sparked concerns that China may be resorting to extrajudicial means to rein in critics overseas.

According to reports by the Radio Free Asia (RFA) and The Guardian, Mr Li was a human rights activist who wrote for the Guangzhou- based Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper.

SEEKING ASYLUM

He was recruited to be a source before. But he left to seek political asylum. I think he was brought back by the Communist Party.''

MS SHI SANMEI, wife of missingdissident Li Xin.

His wife, Ms Shi Sanmei, said Mr Li fled to India last October after the Chinese authorities tried to get him to provide them with information on other activists, and threatened to charge him with spying.

While in India, he reportedly leaked confidential documents about the Chinese Communist Party's propaganda efforts, which included a list of topics and sources that were banned.

After trying unsuccessfully to seek political asylum in India, Mr Li reportedly tried to get a visa to the United States, but he was rejected.

He travelled to Thailand, and on Jan 10 boarded a train from Bangkok to Nong Khai province, which borders Laos. The next morning, he lost contact with his wife.

"He was recruited to be a source before. But he left to seek political asylum," Ms Shi told The Guardian by phone from China. "I think he was brought back by the Communist Party."

Thailand's China-friendly military government has denied knowledge of Mr Li's whereabouts. Spokesmen for both the national police and the junta said they had not heard about the case.

National police spokesman Dejnarong Suthicharnbancha told The Straits Times: "All foreigners entering the country would have their records in the port or immigration checkpoint they entered... If they are missing or have any difficulty, their friends and family members should have reported to the authorities so that we can find out what happened to them."

According to the RFA article, however, Ms Shi's friend was rejected when she tried to report the case to the Thai police.

"They asked, 'Why didn't you report this to the Chinese Embassy,' " Ms Shi told RFA.

The spokesman for Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Sek Wannamethee, said he had no information about the case.

Thai authorities came under heavy criticism last November for deporting two refugees from China, at the request of Chinese authorities. The two men had already been granted asylum by Canada at the time of their arrest by the Thai authorities one month before that.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'China activist goes missing en route to Laos from Thailand'. Print Edition | Subscribe