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Political Motives Suspected After Thai Deportation Arrests

By Martin Croucher and Mo Zhengfeng
Epoch Times Staff
Feb 12, 2008

A recent wave of arrests in Thailand of Falun Gong practitioners follows a previous crackdown in 2005. (Cindy Drukier/The Epoch Times)
A recent wave of arrests in Thailand of Falun Gong practitioners follows a previous crackdown in 2005. (Cindy Drukier/The Epoch Times)

A refugee who walked for miles to flee religious persecution in China has spoken of his shock at being arrested and threatened with deportation by Thai police.

Zhao Shuqing was denied a passport by the Chinese authorities and was forced to make the journey to Thailand by foot.

After arriving in the country, he was granted UN refugee status and settled into life in Bangkok.

However, last Friday, he and 21 other refugees from China were arrested in two swoops directed by Thai Special Branch police and were detained at an immigration detention centre.

All of the detainees were Falun Gong practitioners who were involved in publicising human rights abuses against the movement by Chinese authorities. Falun Gong is a spiritual practice that rose rapidly in popularity in the 1990s in China, accumulating 100 million practitioners before the communist regime outlawed it in 1999.

Critics say the arrests were orchestrated by the Thai police under pressure from the Chinese Embassy.

Thirteen practitioners were bundled into the back of police vans at 11.30am in the first wave of arrests while in meditative protest outside the Chinese Embassy building in Bangkok.

Nine were arrested the same day while distributing leaflets in a tourist spot in Bangkok.

Zhao was tortured in a Chinese labour camp for a year in 2000 after being detained on Tiananmen Square for protesting the leadership's ban on the peaceful movement in 1999.

Speaking to the Epoch Times from Bankok, Zhao said after his experience in China, he didn't fear arrest from the Thai authorities: "When I escaped from China, I could not get a passport, I had to cross over the border in Yunnan province on foot, which was very dangerous.

"Since then, I have forgotten about fear. Because whether I fear or not, I have to flee from China."

After the second group were arrested, Zhao and another refugee managed to negotiate their release with police rather than be taken to the immigration detention centre with the others.

Of the 20 who were still detained at the time of going to press, all had been formally recognised as UN refugees, with the exception of two who were currently in the process of applying for asylum.

Despite this, representatives of the UN Refugee Agency in Thailand were restricted access to the detainees.

A spokeswoman for the Thai Embassy in London confirmed the arrests and said that whether or not they would be returned to China or not would depend on whether they entered the country illegally and on whether they were judged to be "persons of concern".

Thailand is not a signatory of international refugee conventions so it is not clear on what criteria individuals will be judged, but sources close to the case do not believe there is cause for worry.

UN caseworker Giuseppe Vevinchenis said: "We have not had any previous cases where registered refugees have been deported back to their home countries. The policy is on resettlement.

"However they may be there for a long period of time. We are currently dealing with people of other nationalities who have been in there for more than a year."

The two detainees who have not fully gained refugee status have been served protection papers from the UN preventing them from being deported.

Zhao said that he was concerned about the length of time his friends may be detained for. "Even they have no risk to be deported back to China, I still don't want them to lose freedom in this country," he said. "I know what means to be a person who has no freedom."

Zhao said he believed the arrests were at the behest of the Chinese Embassy because of growing interference in the human rights work the group had been involved with.

In December 2006 the Thai Falun Gong Association received threatening calls in Chinese, believed to be from the Embassy, warning the group not to take part in public activities to celebrate the King's Birthday.

Later Thai officials called saying that the group were not to take part because police were allegedly concerned that their participation could damage relations with China.

Canadian human rights lawyer David Matas, who has previously investigated the persecution of Falun Gong, said: "China denies passport renewal to Falun Gong practitioners. This a form of persecution. China then leans on governments to stop any Falun Gong activity by urging them to act on the absence of documents which China has created. That is what happened in Thailand."

He added: "The Thai government has become an arm of the Communist Party of China instead of an arm of the public interest. The Thai government should act in the interests of the Thai people rather than serve as an arm of repression of a brutal dictatorship."

In December 2005, another group of Falun Gong practitioners were detained. Among them was 14-year-old Wang Anqi, who was arrested with her parents. Although she was later released, her parents were incarcerated for five weeks before the family could be reunited again, and resettled to Norway.

Now aged 17, she said: "They pushed us to a truck and the head of the immigration centre said to me that I can go because I was not old enough to be detained."

"I couldn't decide because I didn't know if I should stay together with Mom and Dad in prison or be free alone outside. I didn't know which was better.

"It was the hardest period in my life, especially when i was alone on the New Years Eve."

A spokeswoman for the Thai Special Branch Police in Bangkok confirmed that the arrests had taken place but would not comment further.

A spokesman for the Thai Prime Minister said that the matter was the responsibility of the security services. He added that they had no knowledge of the arrests having taken place because it had not been reported in the Thai media.