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Rights forum urges Laos to free detained Chinese lawyer

Lu Siwei was arrested in Laos allegedly at the behest of China which targeted him for defending human rights activists

Chinese human rights lawyer Lu Siwei was detained in Laos in July on his way to the United States

Chinese human rights lawyer Lu Siwei was detained in Laos in July on his way to the United States. (Photo: FORUM-ASIA)

Published: August 29, 2023 07:01 AM GMT

Updated: August 29, 2023 07:11 AM GMT

A leading Asian rights forum has urged the government in Laos to release a Chinese lawyer detained while traveling to the United States and who has not been seen since then.

In a statement on Aug. 28, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) expressed “grave concerns” about Lu Siwei who was arrested on July 28.

The Lao government should “disclose Lu’s whereabouts and ensure his physical safety as well as mental well-being,” the group’s executive director Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso said in the statement.

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“We call on the authorities to allow Lu to reunite with his family in the United States,” she added.

Founded in 1991, FORUM-ASIA is a network of 85 member organizations across 23 countries.

Bacalso also criticized China for its alleged “long-arm jurisdiction” on Laotian territory.

“Lu Siwei’s arrest on Laotian soil reflects how Beijing pursues critics abroad,” Bacalso said. 

“What happened in Laos shows how the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)... tends to succumb to China's policy to silence, intimidate, and persecute human rights defenders on their turf,” Bacalso added.

“It further suggests how the region no longer provides a safe place or escape route for human rights defenders in exile,” she said.

Lu, a prominent Chinese human rights defender and lawyer was arrested by Laotian police while boarding a train for Thailand. He reportedly fled China and planned to board a flight from Thailand to the United States to reunite with his family.

The group alleged that Lu has remained in an undisclosed location, likely without any contact with his family, attorneys, or any other person of his choosing since his detention.

The group also said Lu was targeted by the Chinese government for his legal defense of human rights and pro-democracy activists.

“As a lawyer, Lu took on delicate cases, often representing clients seen as political targets by Chinese authorities,” the group said.

Lu defended human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng, and the 12 Hong Kong activists who attempted to flee to Taiwan in a speedboat in 2020 to escape a government crackdown, the group said.

Lu was met with “intimidation and harassment, including disbarment” in January 2021 over an online speech that allegedly “endangered national security.” In retaliation, the Chinese authorities placed an exit ban on him.

Bacalso also alleged that Lu would “face torture” if he were to be deported to China which would also be a grave violation of the UN Convention against Torture that Laos ratified.

“It would be against the Laotian government's obligations under international law to repatriate Lu Siwei back to China,” Bacalso warned.

The UN convention forbids the return of people to nations where they run the risk of being persecuted or subjected to torture.

On Aug. 4, the Laotian embassy in London wrote to Chakra Ip — the head of a UK-based group supporting lawyers facing oppression — stating that Lu was arrested in Laos on suspicion of using “fraudulent travel documents,” FORUM-ASIA said in its statement.

If found guilty, Lu “will be deported,” the group said.

Bacalso also urged “ASEAN to not tolerate such actions and to act in solidarity with all human rights defenders in Asia.”

Lu's case is the latest in a long list of Chinese human rights defenders and dissidents who have vanished abroad or have been deported back to China.

The 2009 forced return of Uyghurs from Cambodia, and the August 2022 disappearance of Chinese democracy activist, Dong Guangping, from Vietnam were all orchestrated by Chinese authorities, media reports say.

In addition, Gui Minhai, a bookseller, went missing in Thailand in 2015 only to resurface in China without his passport.

The group alleged that forced disappearances were a means for countries like Laos and China “to spread terror among human rights defenders and society at large.”

Laos is yet to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which it signed in 2008. Meanwhile, China has neither signed nor ratified the convention.

Lu’s arrest sparked an international outcry.

On Aug. 11, United Nations experts issued a public call for Laos to end the arbitrary detention of Lu and to allow him to reunite with his family.

On Aug. 1, some 84 civil society and lawyers’ associations urged Laos to halt Lu’s deportation and to release him immediately.


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