Updating at 16:43 with news that Huang Yan has been granted leave to remain in Taiwan for three months, and at 18:15 with additional comments.

Huang Yan, 48, a Chinese human rights activist who was granted refugee status by the United Nations in 2016, has claimed political asylum in Taiwan and been granted leave to stay in the country for three months, The News Lens has learned.

Huang arrived at Taoyuan International Airport on China Airlines flight CI 762 from Jakarta, Indonesia, at around 9 p.m. yesterday, according to Bob Fu, president of U.S.-based NGO China Aid, which assists persecuted faith communities in China.

China Aid had submitted written appeals to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and Taiwanese authorities to act in support of her case, urging them to refrain from deporting her back to China, where she is certain to face persecution.

The Taiwan Association for China Human Rights (TAHCR, 台灣關懷中國人權協會), which had been notified of her arrival in Taipei while her plane was in the air, conducted negotiations involving the Mainland Affairs Council, the Cabinet-level body responsible for cross-Strait policy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Immigration Agency (NIA) in support of Huang's appeal to enter Taiwan.

After securing the agreement of government authorities to accept Huang, TAHCR President Yang Sen-hong (楊憲宏) and his wife, the association's secretary general, Ling Yao-chiu (邱齡瑤), picked up the human rights advocate from Taoyuan International Airport late this afternoon.

Yang said: "It’s been difficult because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) suppresses and intimidates Taiwan [but] it’s a big moment for the Taiwan government – you cannot force her to leave this country and face persecution in China. The CCP is manufacturing refugees and we should do something to rescue them – Taiwan is the Noah’s Ark of human rights."

"We understand Huang Yan wants to stay in Taiwan safely and wait for the UNHCR to do re-settlement," Yang added.


Photo Credit: Courtesy of Bob Fu

The letter from China Aid to the UNHCR in support of Huang's case.

Huang, who became involved in rights defense work after meeting prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng in 2003, claimed UNHCR refugee status in 2016 on the basis of deteriorating health in police custody while being denied medical treatment.

She played a prominent role in advocating for Gao's release when he was detained in China in 2006, having acted as legal representative for members of the banned Falun Gong sect, and offered outspoken criticism of China's government on its human rights record.

Gao was later sentenced to three years in prison for the crime of subversion of state power, suspended for five years, but would spend the next 12 years in and out of arbitrary detention and house arrest.

After several bouts of arbitrary detention and house arrest, Huang was imprisoned in December 2015 for the crime of “obstructing official duties.” She was denied medical treatment throughout her incarceration, despite having developed ovarian cancer as a result of serial police beatings and consequent miscarriages during prior periods in detention.

A June 2016 submission by the NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders to the UNHCR in support of Huang's refugee status application said that she was subjected to "numerous arbitrary detentions, house arrest, and disappearance. In retaliation for her activism, she suffered miscarriages on three occasions due to brutality by state agents."

China Aid's Fu said that in November 2016, Huang was released from prison in order to undergo surgery in Guangzhou, but China's public security services intervened and stopped proceedings before she had received medical attention.

Working closely with legislators in Hong Kong, Fu said that advocates managed to transport Huang to Hong Kong, from where she escaped China for Bangkok. "Chinese overseas agents kept harassing her, and the Thai authorities were not able to continue to keep her because of visa restrictions, and so she was traveling back and forth between Bangkok and Jakarta," Fu said, adding that she had bought a one-way ticket to China from Jakarta as that was the only way China Airlines staff would allow her to board the plane.

Huang's case throws into sharp relief the Taiwan government's tardy efforts in passing a national Refugee Law, which would offer clarity on how to proceed with cases like this.

Advocates have urged the government to push ahead with processing a draft Bill through second and third readings in Taiwan's parliament, the Legislative Yuan, after the first reading passed in 2016.

"The first reading of the Refugee Act passed [in 2016, but [President] Tsai’s government is afraid of angering China and so has retreated without moving the bill forward," Fu said.

Wu Yeh-ming (吳也民), research analyst with the New Power Party (NPP) Thing Tank, said: "After two discussions in the Internal Administration Committee and the Foreign and National Defense Committee of the Legislative Yuan in 2016, the [Refugee Law] draft is yet to pass the consult among caucuses (黨團協商) in the Legislative Yuan before it can go through the second and third reading.

"The NPP caucus proposed its own version of the Refugee Law for a vote in the general assembly on Dec. 29, 2017, and was voted down by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus for reconsideration. Since then the status of the draft is undetermined and sees no signs of progress in recent months."

A spokesperson for the office of DPP Legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) confirmed that there was no timetable in place to progress the draft bill through to a second reading.

Eeling Chiu (邱伊翎), Secretary General at the Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR, 台灣人權促進會) told The News Lens that TAHR had been lobbying for a freeze in the budget of the NIA until it is possible to establish a review system for asylum seekers.

"We believe that whether we have a refugee law or not, you should not send anyone back to a country where they will have to face torture," she said. "We should have a review system and asylum seekers should receive assistance from lawyers, translators, social workers, and in Huang Yan's case, potentially medical and accommodation assistance as well."

Between 2004 and 2007, nine Chinese refugees, including several Falun Gong members, who arrived in Taiwan to claim asylum were allowed to stay in the country but could only obtain short-term visas, as in Huang's case, and were denied access to health insurance and other rights available to citizens and foreign residents.

However, in 2014, after a decade of waiting, the MAC announced that the refugees would be given special dispensation to receive long-term residency permits.

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Editor: Morley J Weston