Li Nanfei was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, for protesting against Chinese leader Xi Jinping with a placard reading, 'His Majesty President Xi, put an end to dictatorship in China! Give the people back their freedom!' (Photo: RFA/Twitter)
The arrest of a Chinese dissident activist living as a refugee in Thailand for staging a one-man protest against the “oppressive dictatorship” of China’s President Xi Jinping has sparked concerns.
Li Nanfei, a veteran rights activist was arrested by police in the Thai capital Bangkok on Nov. 21 on the charge of “illegal immigration” after he failed to show his passport on request, Radio Free Asia(RFA) reported on Nov. 22.
Li is an UN-registered refugee stranded in Thailand for years seeking resettlement in a third country after fleeing China.
During his protest, Li held a placard that read: "His Majesty President Xi, put an end to dictatorship in China! Give the people back their freedom!”
The Chinese leader was in Bangkok to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
Li said that he was inspired by Peng Lifa’s Beijing Sitong Bridge protest against president Xi on Oct. 13.
"If Mr. Peng Lifa could display a banner in such a dangerous location as Beijing to protest against Xi Jinping's ascension to the throne, I couldn't justify doing or saying nothing when Xi Jinping came here, given that I am in Thailand."
The protest by Feng was a few days before the beginning of the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The handwritten banner strung along Beijing’s Sitong Bridge was against Xi’s cult of personality, dictatorship, human rights violations, strengthening of censorship, seeking of leadership for life, and implementation of the zero-COVID policy.
The protestor was detained swiftly but his brave actions triggered rights activists and supporters to speak out against the Chinese authorities on a global scale.
Li told RFA that such protests as his would keep Xi away from harming people.
"If there are people like me waiting to welcome him whenever Xi Jinping goes anywhere, then he won't be able to go anywhere, and will have to stay in China, rather than going overseas to harm other people," he said.
Li also stated that the police officials who arrested him confided their sympathies at his plight, but “there was nothing they could do about it."
"[All three of them] gave me the thumbs-up and told me they didn't like dictators."
"One of them told me they would try to find some way to let me stay in Thailand, but that I wouldn't be able to hold onto my current political views," Li said.
The fate of Li is yet to be known as Thai police and immigration officials are yet to comment on his arrest and subsequent proceedings against him.
There have been many cases of arrests and deportation of Chinese dissidents from Thailand, which is a major concern among rights activists.
Chinese activist Hu Junxiong, who has been in Thailand for seven years, said he is very worried about Li's safety.
"Li Nanfei has been thrown into prison unjustly," Hu told RFA.
"According to my information, he is currently locked up in Huai Khwang police station, where the conditions are very poor," he said. "There is nothing there, just an iron cage. [Li has been] locked in an iron cage."
"Refugees stranded in Thailand need effective protection as soon as possible, to ensure our personal safety," Hu said.
Hao Dan, a Canada-based democracy activist said that he and fellow activists are doing their best to win international support for Li and the other refugees in Thailand.
"We strongly call for Li Nanfei's release as soon as possible," he said. "We need to explain... the evil and despicable methods used by the Chinese government."
"Pro-democracy activists, whether they are in China or overseas, have suffered so much persecution," Hao said.
Earlier this month, Chinese state security police in Bangkok detained Adiyaa, an ethnic Mongolian Chinese national who fled the country after his involvement in 2020 protests over a ban on Mongolian-medium teaching in schools.
Earlier in 2019, Thai police detained two Chinese refugees -- Jia Huajiang and Liu Xuehong -- who had helped jailed rights activist Huang Qi before fleeing the country.
The Chinese government's arrest of rights activist Dong Guangping and political cartoonist Jiang Yefei in 2018 after they were sent home from Thailand during their wait for resettlement as political refugees, prompted an international outcry.
In a recent development, Canadian officials have begun an investigation against illegal Chinese police stations set up in the country to harass Chinese expatriates, reported AFP.
Spain-based human rights group Safeguard Defenders reported in October 2022 that the police posts in a residential home, a single-storied commercial building and a convenience store in the Toronto area, are among 54 worldwide.
The NGO reported in September that the stations "serve a far more sinister and wholly illegal purpose" than Beijing has acknowledged, including tracking and pursuing targets.
It said a total of 230,000 Chinese nationals were returned to China between April 2021 and July 2022, mostly from countries in Asia, through methods that include "threats and harassment to family members back home or directly to the target abroad."