Two Chinese activists seeking political asylum on the democratic island of Taiwan are camped out in the restricted area of its international airport awaiting a decision on their applications, RFA has learned.
Yan Kefen, also known as Yan Bozhen, and Liu Xinglian have been stranded at the airport after being refused entry by immigration authorities on Thursday.
Liu is a founder member and secretary-general of the often-targeted dissident group China Rights Observer, while Yan is a member of the New Citizens’ Movement to hold officials to greater accountability, whose founder Xu Zhiyong served a four-year jail term for his activism.
Official sources indicated that Taiwan’s criteria for political asylum usually approve activists who have made a name for themselves in China’s dissident movement.
Liu said he was secretly arrested and held in solitary confinement and tortured for about nine months by authorities in China, and fears similar treatment if he is forced to return there.
“They played noise at high volume at me every day, to the extent that my aural nerve sustained serious damage,” he told RFA. “They also force-fed me daily with a large amount of unlabeled medication. When I got out they discovered a tumor on my left adrenal gland.”
Liu has also suffered from heart disease, high blood sugar, memory loss, neurasthenia, and high blood pressure since his ordeal, he said.
Liu’s torture claims are consistent with an earlier disappearance while in police custody.
RFA reported in May 2016 that Liu had gone missing from a detention center where he had been held since June 2015 on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power.”
His “disappearance” was discovered on March 11 after two supporters tried to take money to him in the Wuhan No. 2 Detention Center, only to be told he was no longer there.
China’s long reach
Yan and Liu made their application as they transited via Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport on a flight from Thailand to mainland China, a route followed by rights activist and former torture victim Huang Yan, who was granted a temporary stay by Taiwan after being recognized as a genuine refugee by the United Nations.
“It wasn’t easy to get to a place we previously thought was free,” Yan said, adding that the pair had been taken aback by Beijing’s influence with the Thai authorities, who have previously detained and forcibly repatriated even approved U.N. refugees wanted by Beijing.
“We were terrified by the Chinese Communist Party’s persecution against us in Thailand,” he said. “We are determined that we would rather end our lives by our own free will than go back there and die from ill-treatment and torture.”
Chinese activists Dong Guangping and Jiang Yefei fled with their families to Thailand in 2015, and were granted refugee status by the UNHCR office in Bangkok.
But they were handed over to China by the Thai police as they awaited resettlement in the third country, in a move that drew strong criticism from the U.N.
Dong and Jiang, a political cartoonist who had lampooned Chinese President Xi Jinping, were jailed for “incitement to subvert state power” and “illegally crossing a national border” by a court in Chongqing after arriving back in China in connection with their peaceful activism.
And China Rights Observer founder Qin Yongmin was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment for subversion in connection with his peaceful activism by a court in the central Chinese city of Wuhan on July 11.
Waiting to hear
In limbo in Taipei, Yan and Liu will now have to wait to learn their fate.
“The immigration officials came today to have a quick look at our case, and now they want to study it more closely,” Yan told RFA from the airport on Monday. “We are just waiting here quietly to see how things develop.”
Liu’s reaction to the delay was less sanguine, however. He has asked for medical treatment after taking an overdose of blood pressure medication.
“The airport emergency hospital can’t handle my condition, and I have to go to a regular medical institution to get medical treatment,” he told RFA. “There is no way for me to get treatment, because they said that I have to clear immigration to get to a hospital, and now I can’t clear immigration.”
Liu said he had fled to Thailand, but also left that country out of fear of being arrested and deported to China.
The Immigration Department said in a statement that relevant agencies are sticking to the island’s laws and regulations, while “respecting the claims” of the two asylum-seekers.
The island’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said it would “listen to the opinions of the parties, safeguard the safety of both people, actively verify relevant matters and evidence, and make appropriate arrangements according to law and related practices.”
The MAC has also said Huang Yan wasn’t granted political asylum, but a temporary visa “for humanitarian reasons” owing to her ill-health.
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