Thai immigration officials say an elderly Chinese dissident detained since December has been granted U.N. refugee status and will be resettled in a third country. A press-freedom group had been concerned he would be sent back to China where he would face persecution.
Thai immigration officials told VOA Wednesday that Chinese citizen Sun Shucai is no longer in danger of being deported to China.
The 87-year-old activist and writer was detained in Thailand on December 8, despite having a pending application for refugee status with the United Nations.
Immigration officials say Sun overstayed his visa by more than two years. He was facing the possibility of being deported back to China and the risk that he could be imprisoned for criticizing the ruling Communist Party.
Immigration Police Major Vatcharapon Karnchanakantorn said Sun was granted U.N. refugee status in December, however, so they would not force him back to China.
Vatcharapon said Sun submitted the document requesting refugee status to the United Nations refugee agency and asked to be relocated to a third country. He said they cannot force Sun to return to China because it would be against human rights.
The U.N. refugee agency would not confirm Sun’s status because, as a policy, they do not comment on individual cases.
Vatcharapon said it is not clear when Sun will be relocated to a third country, but in the meantime he will be kept in detention. He said so far while in detention, a UNHCR representative met daily with Sun, and a Chinese consular official visited once.
The Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders says Chinese authorities keep a close eye on dissidents in Bangkok.
The group said Sun’s political activism in China started in the 1950s, when he was sentenced to 14 years hard labor for criticizing Mao Zedong’s communist revolution.
Reporters Without Borders said he resumed critical writing about the Communist Party in the late 1990s on the Internet and in a New York-based dissident magazine, Beijing Spring.
Chinese laws on paper protect freedom of speech. In practice, though, Chinese citizens who publicly criticize the ruling Communist Party are dealt with harshly, often with lengthy prison sentences.