Rights groups and activists protested Monday outside the Laos Embassy in London to demand the release of a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer who was arrested in Laos last month after fleeing China and who now faces the risk of repatriation.
Lu Siwei was arrested in Laos on July 28 as he tried to travel to the United States to reunite with his wife and daughter, according to rights groups now assisting Lu.
Lu has often taken on politically sensitive cases including one involving 12 Hong Kong citizens who were arrested by the Chinese coast guard in 2020 as they tried to flee on a boat to Taiwan. He was disbarred around a year later for an online speech that allegedly "endangered national security."
Lu had been placed under a so-called "exit ban" by Chinese authorities since May 2021, barring him from leaving the country. During this journey, however, the rights groups said Lu had a valid passport and visas for Laos and the United States.
An open letter signed by over 85 rights groups including Amnesty International demanding Lu's release was handed to a Laos official at the embassy as protesters held up signs including "China Cannot Be Trusted," according to online posts.
"We are gravely concerned that he (Lu) is at serious risk of forced repatriation to China where he faces the high likelihood of torture and other ill-treatment," the letter read.
Lu's wife, Zang Chunxiao, in a YouTube video, had earlier called for Lu to be given access to lawyers and foreign diplomats.
Lu was arrested on suspicion of using "fraudulent travel documents," according to a letter written by the Laos Embassy.
"If found guilty Mr. Siwei will be deported," the embassy wrote in the letter dated August 4 and seen by Reuters, that was addressed to Chakra Ip, the head of "29 Principles," a U.K.-based group supporting lawyers facing oppression.
The Laos embassy gave no immediate response to a Reuters request for comment.