Chinese journalist who defected is missing from Thailand
Jan. 22, 2016
BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese journalist who said he was fed up with a life as a government informant and fled China last year has been missing from Thailand since Jan. 11, his wife said Friday, raising concerns he might have been abducted by Chinese agents.
He Fangmei said she last spoke to her husband, Li Xin, when he was riding a train from Bangkok to Nong Khai in northeastern Thailand. She said she fears the journalist was taken back to China.
Li, formerly a website editor for a Chinese media group, fled last October to India, where he told The Associated Press that he could no longer bear working as a secret informant for the Chinese government. He later traveled to Thailand.
Li's wife said he was planning to seek asylum before he went missing.
The journalist's vanishing is the latest in a string of disappearances of China-related activists in Southeast Asia that have raised suspicions of Chinese government involvement.
Last October, Hong Kong publisher Gui Minhai suddenly disappeared from his apartment in Pattaya, a Thai beach resort. Gui reappeared this week on Chinese state TV, where he said he returned to China to turn himself in for an old crime. His friends insist Gui was forcibly taken away.
Four other people connected to the same Hong Kong publishing company, which sells books banned in China about Chinese politics and politicians, have disappeared.
One of them, Lee Bo, said he returned voluntarily to mainland China in notes to his wife, but supporters believe he was kidnapped and smuggled to the mainland.
Beijing also took back the teenage son of a detained rights lawyer after he fled from China to Myanmar.
After arriving in India, Li, 37, revealed that he was an informant for the government. He said he was coerced into gathering information about fellow activists and journalists after the government detained him for sharing information with the rival Taiwanese government and threatened to imprison him.
Li began his activism when he set up a website devoted to building civil society in 2007. The next year, he signed the '08 Charter, a pro-democracy document written by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. The document landed Liu an 11-year prison sentence on a conviction of inciting to overturn the state, and many signees went on the government's blacklist.
An active member of China's circle of activists, Li worked as an opinion editor for the website of the influential newspaper Southern Metropolis.
Compelled by a desire to change China, Li said he fed information to the Taiwanese government about China's control of the Internet, although Taiwan's foreign ministry declined to verify Li's claim.
Li said he attracted the attention of state security, who asked him to be an informant. After he provided no useful information, Li said he was detained in June 2013 for involvement with Taiwan and had to cave in or risk going to jail.
But he said he was still reluctant to report on other activists and journalists.
"I was very fearful. They could drag me back (to jail) anytime," Li said in an interview in New Delhi. "I did not want to work for them, but I felt I had no choice."
"I believe there are many people like me who are working on behalf of the authoritarian government. But I cannot be one of them," Li said.
Untold numbers of informants help China's government keep tabs on anyone who may pose a threat to the regime, a task authorities have pursued more intensely under President Xi Jinping than they have in decades.
Last year, six Canadian citizens who are members of the Chinese ethnic Uighur Muslim minority told the Globe and Mail newspaper that they were detained while visiting China, blackmailed and bribed by Chinese authorities to spy on activists sympathetic to the Uighur cause in Canada. Uighurs in China have long complained of discrimination and suppression of their religion and culture.
Associated Press writer Muneeza Naqvi in New Delhi contributed to this report.