KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – A teenager who claims to be a permanent resident of the United States and his fiancee are again threatened with extradition to their home country, China, a sign of Beijing’s extension of reach over the suspected dissidents abroad.
Chinese authorities had sought Wang Jingyu, a 19-year-old student, for his comments online about the deadly border clashes between Chinese and Indian forces last year. He was arrested by plainclothes police in Dubai as he was transferred for a flight to the United States in early April and held for weeks in a case that the US State Department has called a problem. human rights. He said Chinese authorities in Dubai had withdrawn his green card.
Wang was released on May 27, just hours after the Associated Press asked questions about him. It fled first to Turkey and then to Ukraine as a temporary safe haven open to Chinese passport holders without entry restrictions related to COVID-19.
But on Thursday, the PA learned, Wang received an email warning that Chinese authorities knew he was in hiding in Ukraine and had escalated the charges against him to the point of subversion of state power, a loosely defined charge often used by Chinese authorities to jail critics. The email claimed to be from the Chongqing City Police State Security Department, who said they were looking for him.
“Your actions have changed completely, from a simple accusation of causing trouble, causing trouble and demeaning our border martyrs to subversion of state power,” the email read. “We in the public security organs and the national security organs know exactly where you are. I want to remind you that China and Ukraine have an extradition agreement.
On Monday, Wang received another email from the same person, saying that they had prepared measures if the couple ran away again. The AP saw screenshots of both emails.
“I was really scared, I couldn’t sleep well at night,” Wang said. “It was very clear from what they said that they would take action against me. “
Terrified, Wang and his fiancée, Wu Huan, 26, flew to the Netherlands, which does not have an extradition treaty with China. They apply for asylum or at least a temporary stay visa.
Upon arrival at Amsterdam airport, the couple were informed by Dutch immigration authorities that their passports had been canceled, said Bob Fu, chairman of ChinaAid, who helped organize their escape from Ukraine. .
Bas Belder, a former member of the European Parliament, said he had been in contact with the Dutch justice ministry to draw the minister’s attention to the couple’s plight. He added that the case, including the cancellation of their passports, highlights “a truly criminal behavior of the Chinese state party to prosecute its citizens even beyond Chinese territory and to try by all possible means to capture them ”. The Justice Department said it could not comment on individual cases.
Chinese officials have not responded to multiple requests for comment from the Foreign Ministry, Chongqing police and the Chinese embassy in Washington.
The US State Department declined to comment on the details of the case on Tuesday, but said in a general statement:
“We remain alarmed by the human rights violations and abuses in China and call on the authorities of the PRC (People’s Republic of China) to respect the fundamental freedoms to which their citizens are entitled … This applies to all citizens from the PRC – both inside and outside of China. “
The case fuels growing fears of extraterritorial reach on China’s part, especially with fears that Hong Kong’s National Security Law, passed last year, may apply to people from all walks of life. nationality, even outside of Hong Kong.
Formal extradition requests are far from the only tool used by China to exercise control over its citizens abroad, said Jerome Cohen, deputy senior researcher at the Council for Foreign Relations and an expert on Chinese law. More common are informal attempts, also used by the United States, relying on expulsions from foreign countries that are rarely made public and are much more difficult to track, he said.
“Obviously this is a blatant effort to expand Chinese power overseas,” Cohen said of the case. “There are certainly more and more long-arm attempts on the part of China by one means or another – informal deportation, extradition…, coercion against their families in China, using all the techniques of the book, legal and illegal. “
Wang has been fleeing Chinese police and traveling with Wu abroad since July 2019, after posting comments supporting the mass protests in Hong Kong on a Chinese social media website. His parents sent him overseas to wait for any potential problems.
In February this year, China announced that it had lost four soldiers four months ago in a brutal fight between Chinese and Indian forces over a border dispute in the Karakoram Mountains. Wang asked why the Chinese government had waited so long to announce the death toll and became the target of state media.
Six others were arrested by police over their remarks on the Sino-Indian border dispute this year, according to a February report by state-owned Global Times, based on statements from local police. Wang was the only one of the seven overseas and out of reach. Chongqing police then said in a public statement that they were looking for him on the blanket charge of “arguing and causing trouble,” often used against political targets.
The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, launched a hashtag, “Man overseas who slandered border heroes is now being stalked online” on the social media platform Weibo. It has since been viewed 280 million times and Wang said he received threatening phone calls.
After Wang’s comments in February, his parents were arrested by the Chongqing police, he said. He gave interviews to Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and DW in Chinese to publicize what was happening to them.
He has since been unable to reach his parents independently. Chongqing police sent him a recording of his father warning him not to interview the US media, which the PA heard.
Authorities in Dubai did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. A Dubai Public Prosecutor’s Office indictment obtained by the PA after his arrest described Wang as being investigated for allegedly “insulting one of the monotheistic religions”, a charge generally referring to the insult to Islam. When shown the indictment, the Dubai Media Office said the charges were dropped and Wang was released.
“The Chinese authorities have not inquired about Mr. Wang, nor have they requested his deportation to China, and there has been no contract between the UAE and the Chinese authorities regarding Mr. Wang,” he said. said the Dubai media office at the time.
Wu flew to Dubai in April shortly after her fiancé’s arrest. She hired a lawyer, while posting on social media and giving interviews to raise awareness about her case.
Wu was abducted from her hotel in Dubai on May 27, the couple said. Guo Baosheng, a Chinese dissident who also runs a Youtube channel and publicized Wang’s detention by UAE authorities, said he urged Wu to leave the hotel just before his disappearance.
Wu said she was taken to a Dubai police station and questioned by officials from the Chinese consulate. She was then taken into custody by Chinese officials, according to the couple. She was on a hunger strike for several days and her mental state was on the verge of collapsing, so she was released on June 8, she said.
“It’s a particularly painful memory,” she said. “I don’t have a lot of political views. I really, really love China… I never thought I would experience this injustice in the UAE.
In the meantime, Wang is still posting criticisms of the Chinese government on Twitter. He said he would continue to express himself in any way he could.
“I want to make my voice heard in the firewall by all possible methods,” he said. “I still think it’s only when the real Chinese inside the firewall wake up that the country will have hope. “
Associated Press reporters Mike Corder in the Netherlands and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.