Lawyers for a Chinese dissident in Thailand are appealing for his refugee status after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees revoked it. They say the man, Li Yuzhou, was a Chinese government spy but turned against authorities and would face persecution if sent back to China.

Lawyers for Li Yuzhou appealed Friday to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Bangkok.

They say the UN agency in May revoked Li's refugee status, putting him, his wife, and two children at risk of being sent back to China.

Pressure to extradite

Thai media reports China has been pressing Thailand to extradite Li.

A Thai government spokesman said he could neither confirm nor deny the report. A Chinese spokesperson was not available for immediate comment.

Surapong Kongchantuk is one of Li's legal representatives with the Lawyers Council of Thailand.  He says if the UN refugee agency insists on withdrawing Li's refugee status, he and his family would likely be sent back to China. He says dissidents repatriated to China end up disappearing.

A letter shown to journalists indicates the UNHCR  took back the status because Li helped arrest student dissidents in China.

His lawyers say Li admits to having worked as a domestic spy for the Chinese government, monitoring and reporting on youth groups.

Surapong says when Li realized he was helping suppress freedom of speech he turned on authorities and was forced to flee to Thailand.  He says Li was granted refugee status because he was a political refugee and fled certain death in China. He says Li supported student democracy movements and helped those wanted by the government.

Change of heart

Surapong says the UN agency was aware of Li's past activities when they granted his refugee status.

He attributes the UN agency's change of heart to political pressure from Chinese and Thai authorities.

Kitty McKinsey, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Bangkok, says they do not comment on individual cases. But, as a policy, she says they always request governments not return asylum seekers to a country where they would be in danger.

Li's lawyers say he is allowed to stay in Thailand while the UN refugee agency reviews his appeal, which is expected to take about six months.