(Washington, DC) – The Thai government’s forcible return to China of two dissidents recognized as refugees puts them at grave risk of torture and other mistreatment, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the Thai prime minister, General Prayut Chan-ocha.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha attends the plenary session of the 25th ASEAN summit at Myanmar International Convention Centre in Naypyitaw on November 12, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

Thai authorities forcibly returned the Chinese rights and democracy activists, Dong Guangping and Jiang Yefei, to China over the weekend of November 14-15, 2015. Thailand took the action even though the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had informed key Thai government agencies on November 10 that the two had been accepted for refugee resettlement to a third country and would be departing within days.

“Thailand’s forced return of these two rights activists into harm’s way in China after being explicitly told that they were refugees is cruel as well as unlawful,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “These actions blatantly contradict the pledge to uphold rights that the prime minister made before the UN General Assembly. It’s deeply alarming, if not surprising, that the junta’s deference to abusive neighbors takes priority over the rule of law.”

Returning the two refugees to China – where they are at risk of persecution, arbitrary detention, and possibly torture – constitutes refoulement, which is prohibited under customary international law and violates Thailand’s obligations under article 3 of the Convention against Torture. Individuals who are known to have been involved in issues considered politically sensitive or from certain ethnic or religious groups who have been forcibly returned to China have faced such mistreatment.

 
It’s deeply alarming, if not surprising, that the junta’s deference to abusive neighbors takes priority over the rule of law.

Sophie Richardson

China director

Thailand should cease any deportations of UNHCR-recognized refugees or persons of concern who are in the official process of pursuing an asylum claim. Thailand should also ratify the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, and urgently reform its immigration laws to recognize refugee status under law. Thailand should also call on China to reveal the two men’s whereabouts, immediately release them, and permit them to travel abroad to reunite with their families, who have resettled in a third country.

“It seems clear that the forced return of these two activists was a deliberate, premediated rights violation by the Thai junta at China’s behest,” Richardson said. “Prime Minister Prayut should recognize that Thailand is moving toward the sort of pariah status reserved for the most rights-abusing countries, and right these wrongs.”