Amnesty International has called for urgent action over a missing Chinese journalist who was said to have returned to China voluntarily to assist in an investigation after seeking refuge in Thailand.

Li Xin, former editor for the liberal-leaning Southern Metropolis Daily’s online edition, leaked a huge list of censored terms after fleeing China last October. Li had said he decided to leave after national security agents pressed him to spy upon human rights activists and dissidents.

He arrived in Thailand – which has a large community of exiled Chinese dissidents – via Hong Kong and India. He went missing on January 11 as he prepared to travel from Thailand to bordering Laos.

Li Xin. File Photo: Radio Free Asia.

On Wednesday, Li’s wife He Fangmei was able to reach him after being summoned to a police station to receive his call. Li said he had voluntarily returned to China for an investigation, according to the Associated Press.

“He won’t tell me where he is in China, but asks me to stay rested and live my life. He asks me not to contact any outsider for it does no good to him or me,” Li’s wife told AP via voice and text messages.

“But I know that’s the pattern, and Li completely spoke contrary to his own will.”

Li Xin was on a train to Laos before he disappeared. Photo: Radio Free Asia.

‘Farcical explanation’

“The notion that Li Xin — a whistleblower who was seeking asylum because he feared for his safety and security — somehow ‘voluntarily returned to China’ and is now ‘voluntarily participating in an investigation’ is simply unbelievable,” William Nee, China Researcher at Amnesty International, told HKFP.

“This farcical explanation fits a disturbing new pattern in which the authorities seem to think that if they can get detained people under their control to write letters or call family members saying that they are ‘pro-actively cooperating with investigations’ they can simply do away with any pretense of due process and human rights.”

“The recent revelations still leave open many unresolved questions: where is Li Xin? How did he get to China? Who is the investigating authority, and under what charges, if any, is he being held? Does he have access to lawyers?” asked Nee.

In an urgent call for action, Amnesty International asked the public to write to the Town Police and Department of Public Security of Li’s native Henan Province to demand:

  • an immediate disclosure of Li Xin’s whereabouts and legal status;
  • that they release Li immediately and unconditionally, unless he is formally charged with an internationally recognizable criminal offence;
  • that they ensure that Li is not subjected to torture or other ill-treatment in detention, and that he has regular, unrestricted access to his family and lawyers, pending his release.

The NGO also asked the appeals be sent to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Cui Tiankai, Chinese Ambassador to the US.

Lee Bo with his wife in China on January 23. Photo: HKFP.

Chain reactions

Li Xin’s case is the latest of several recent disappearances of people critical of the Chinese government.

Gui Minhai, a Swedish national and co-owner of Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong, also disappeared in Thailand last October.

He reemerged on Chinese state television last month to confess to a crime he allegedly committed 12 years ago, saying that he turned himself in to Chinese authorities.

Gui’s daughter had told the media that she believed her father was abducted to China.

Four other co-owners and staff members of the bookstore, which specialises in Chinese political gossip titles, also disappeared last year. Lee Bo, who went missing in Hong Kong, also said he voluntarily returned to China for an investigation.

Last November two well-known Chinese activists, Jiang Yefei and Dong Guangping, were repatriated from Thailand to China despite being recognised as refugees by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The move sparked concerns over their safety and the potential for unfair trials.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.