The Chinese activist and former political prisoner who failed in his bid to gain political asylum in Taiwan faces a legitimate threat in China, according to a leading Chinese dissident.
Zhang Xiangzhong (張向忠), 48, went missing from a tour group in Taiwan on April 12 and was taken into the custody of Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency on April 17.
Zhang, who finished a three-year jail term in China mid-2016, departed Taiwan for China this afternoon, according to local reports.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council has issued a statement saying all the relevant authorities decided Zhang was not eligible to apply for long-term residency, the Central News Agency reports.
After fleeing his tour group, Zhang was not heard from for several days. He resurfaced in Taipei on April 17, visiting the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, but was told he may need to provide further evidence that he will face an immediate threat of arrest or torture should he return to China.
Wu'er Kaixi (吾爾開希) is a former student leader who escaped to Taiwan after China's 1989 June 4 Tiananmen Square democracy movement and is now a member of the Reporters Without Borders Emeritus Board.
Prior to the news that Zhang had left Taiwan, Wu’er said he believed Zhang did face a legitimate threat if he had to return to China.
“One thing that makes political asylum from China widely accepted in many other countries – the United States and many European countries – nowadays is because it is quite difficult to predict what might happen when they go back; that itself is a clear danger for that person,” he told The News Lens.
“Making predictions is a very difficult thing. But not knowing, itself, presents a high probability of a threat," he said.
Zhang is a member of the New Citizens Movement, a Chinese civil rights group founded by activist Xu Zhiyong (許志永).
He was arrested in July 2013 on suspicion of disrupting public order but was tried and sentenced to three years in prison for operating a credit card scam. His lawyer at the time, Xie Yanyi (謝燕益), said that the Haidian Court in Beijing prevented people from observing the hearing, and the prosecutors limited her to only speaking of the alleged credit card scam during her defense of Zhang.
Zhang, who was released in June 2016, has claimed that he has been under constant surveillance since leaving prison.
Despite ratifying numerous international human rights covenants, Taiwan does not have a refugee and political asylum law. Laws to create a legal basis to review and grant refugee and asylum status were introduced into Taiwan’s parliament in July 2016, but have since stalled – one of the issues being debated is whether would apply to applicants from China.
However, there was recent precedent for the Taiwan government to accept Zhang’s political asylum bid.
Editor: Olivia Yang