Eight Chinese refugees in Thailand were detained, abused, and lied to by local authorities, who claim they were compelled to do so by the Chinese regime.
In two separate incidents in March and April, Zhao Guoliang, Gui Bailing, Wang Jingpo, Wang Zhiyong, Lin Yan, Xu Menglan, Wang Hong and Wu Xiaoyan were arrested in Pattaya, a town on Thailand’s east coast, according to New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television.
The eight Chinese were residing in Thailand after escaping persecution back home for being practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline whose adherents do slow moving exercises and abide by moral teachings.
Pattaya police say the Chinese citizens were illegal immigrants because their visas expired. It is unclear if they lack the proper documentation to stay in Thailand—all of them have valid United Nations refugee visas to other countries, but Thailand doesn’t have an asylum agreement with the United Nations.
The Thai authorities’ actions leading up to the arrest and after, however, have raised questions about potential political pressure by Chinese authorities.
For instance, before their arrest the Falun Gong practitioners were surveilled in a sting operation by immigration officials who dressed up as tourists or other practitioners, according to NTD Television. They were watched as they handed out flyers about the persecution of their discipline to locals and tourists, and were even followed home, the broadcaster says.
Following their first arrest on March 13, Pattaya police made the six Chinese—Zhao Guoliang, Gui Bailing, Wang Jingpo, Wang Zhiyong, Lin Yan, Xu Menglan—sign a document “confessing” to having committed a crime, and denied them access to lawyers. They were detained by police holdings for two days before being transferred to a local prison.
The other two practitioners, Wang Hong and Wu Xiaoyan, encountered similar treatment. They were arrested in Pattaya on April 10, and locked together although in a 43 square feet dark room in the police station for two days.
Empty Promises, Pressure From China
The six Falun Gong practitioners were eventually let out on bail, but soon found themselves back in prison amidst another round of controversial circumstances.
After a court session on April 16, the six were told by interpreters that they would be let off after signing some papers and paying a fine. However, after walking out of the courtroom early evening, they were once again arrested by police and held in police cells for four days—local law stipulates that prisoners can only be kept in police holdings for 48 hours.
The police also appeared to reveal Chinese official pressure behind the scenes in the case of Wang Hong and Wu Xiaoyan. When asked if they were being pressured by China, police replied: “You could say that.”
When Zhao Guixin, the daughter of Zhao Guoliang, flew in from the United States to secure the release of the six—she was worried about their health after they started a hunger strike on April 17—Pattaya police told her they couldn’t be let go because they were under pressure from the Chinese regime, but she could try taking the case to immigration officials in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, NTD Television reports.
Zhao’s daughter did as instructed—she informed the United States and European authorities, and received two letters from European Parliament members Klaus Buchner and Dr. Cornelia Ernst.
When the Pattaya police discovered Ms. Zhao efforts, they reportedly violently dragged the six out of their cells, handcuffed them, shoved them into police cars—Zhao was kicked in the groin and punched at this point—and transferred them to an immigration prison in Bangkok that evening.
The other two practitioners, Wang and Wu, were denied bail on April 16.
Thailand has a history of arresting and harassing Falun Gong practitioners, Chinese or other nationalities, stretching back to the early 2000s.
While Thai authorities have consistently hinted at being pressured to target Falun Gong by the Chinese regime, they seem to be rather upfront in the Falun Gong arrest cases this year.
Currently, there are 19 Falun Gong practitioners being detained in Thailand.