A Chinese political refugee detained last month by police in Thailand has begun a hunger strike in an immigration detention center in the hope of staving off her forced repatriation.
Wu Yuhua, who is also known by her nickname Ai Wu, was detained by police in Bangkok alongside her husband Yang Chong on Aug. 29 and locked up in an immigration detention center.
"There is no way to resist; no dignity," Ai Wu said in a video statement smuggled out of the detention center. "That's why I have decided to go on hunger strike to protest my detention and the decisions by the police, I who am an innocent refugee."
The couple had been registered as genuine political refugees by the United Nations and were awaiting resettlement in a third country.
Fellow Thailand-based refugee Yu Yanhua said Ai Wu had begun refusing food after the couple's third appeal was rejected by a court in Bangkok.
"She is in total despair and she is very angry, so she is going on a hunger strike in protest," Yu told RFA. "She isn't in good health, and she requested via her lawyer and an interpreter to be allowed to see a doctor appointed by the court, but in the end they didn't let her."
"I don't think she will be able to stand [being on hunger strike]," she said.
Meanwhile, the Thai authorities have changed conditions attached to bail arrangements for the couple on a number of occasions.
"They said it would cost 24,000 baht [U.S. $731] for one person and 48,000 baht [U.S. 1,461] for both of them to bail them out, but then there was also an issue with their address," Yu said.
"Then they wanted the U.N. to guarantee they wouldn't abscond, so I came here to the UN today, and they won't guarantee that Ai Wu and Yang Chong won't abscond," she said.
Wu also said efforts were under way to prevent the couple from being repatriated to China where they would likely face official reprisals for their activism.
Yang and Ai Wu were initially targeted by Chinese police after taking part in the press freedom protests in the southern city of Guangzhou in January 2013.
They fled the country in February 2015, and made their way to Thailand after Ai Wu started a support group for disappeared rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng.
Since then, they have been eking an existence without papers in the country's Pattaya region.
They were approved as political refugees by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok in 2017, but had yet to be accepted for resettlement in a third country amid a global tightening of national immigration policies.
The hand of the CCP
Another Thailand-based refugee Wang Xili said he believes Beijing is behind the couple's detention.
"I think we have seen the hand of the Chinese Communist Party in all of this," Wang said. "It is entirely possible that China doesn't want them to get out [of immigration detention]."
Wu and Yang were detained along with He Weiyi outside the New Zealand Embassy in Bangkok, where they had intended to deliver a petition along with Duan Jinggang and other Chinese exiles.
Eyewitnesses said He Weiyi, a missionary with legal immigration status in Thailand, was released soon after, but Wu and Yang couldn't produce any legal documents proving their right to be in Thailand, and were taken to an immigration detention center.
In July, authorities in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing jailed two rights activists sent home from Thailand as they were awaiting resettlement as political refugees, prompting an international outcry.
Dong Guangping and Jiang Yefei fled with their families to Thailand in 2015, and were granted refugee status by the UNHCR office in Bangkok.
But as they awaited resettlement in a third country, they were handed over to China by the Thai police, in a move that drew strong criticism from the U.N.
Dong and Jiang were both found guilty of "incitement to subvert state power" and "illegally crossing a national border" by a court in Chongqing.
Jiang received a six-and-a-half-year jail term, while Dong was sentenced to three-and-a-half years, their relatives said, citing phone calls with police and online reports.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.