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Lao police detain Chinese rights lawyer who was headed to the United States

A Chinese human rights lawyer who lost his law license after speaking out about the cases of 12 Hong Kong activists has been arrested in Laos and could face deportation to China, the Associated Press reported.

Lu Siwei was arrested in Vientiane Friday morning as he boarded a train for Thailand. He was traveling to Bangkok to board a flight to the United States to be with his wife and daughter, according to the AP.

Lao police said that there was something wrong with his passport, according to Bob Fu, founder of Texas-based religious rights group ChinaAid. 

Lu sent a message at 10:10 a.m. on Friday saying that he had been detained by three policemen, according to his wife, Zhang Chunxiao.

“I haven’t been able to get in touch with him again,” she told Radio Free Asia. “I feel that they will send him back as soon as possible.”

Lu had been under surveillance in China since his attorney’s license was revoked in 2021, Zhang said. A camera was installed at the door of their house, and he had been barred from leaving China. 

‘Long-arm jurisdiction’

The arrest in Laos was obviously due to the “long-arm jurisdiction” of Chinese authorities, who have been aggressively pursuing Chinese dissidents abroad, Fu said. Lu would face prison if returned to China.

Fu said he was contacted by Lu’s family two weeks ago to help him leave China. Lu had valid visas for Laos and the United States, and two ChinaAid activists were traveling with him when he was arrested, the AP said. 

Fu sent the AP photos of Lu’s passport to verify his claims.

He told RFA that Chinese authorities likely asked Lao police to focus on Lu’s passport during the interaction at the train station. He said he’s spoken with several U.S. State Department senior officials about the arrest.

One of the two activists [left] traveling with Chinese rights lawyer Lu Siwei [right] argues with police who were in the process of detaining Lu, near the Thanaleng dry port, 13 kilometers (8 miles), south of Vientiane, on July 28, 2023. Credit: Anonymous source via AP

“The State Department activated the emergency response mechanism and immediately notified the U.S. embassy in Laos and the diplomatic systems of other allied countries,” Fu said.

China’s Foreign Ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from the AP on Friday. Numbers listed for Lao’s Foreign Ministry rang unanswered, and the Laotian embassy in Beijing didn’t immediately respond to emailed requests for comment, the AP said.

Lawyer for detained activist

Lu was hired by the family of Quinn Moon, one of 12 protesters who were jailed after trying to escape to democratic Taiwan by speedboat following the 2019 Hong Kong protest movement. 

He was particularly vocal in the months following their initial detention and repeatedly commented about his unsuccessful attempts to gain access to his client.

After his law license was revoked in 2021, Lu told RFA that he couldn’t have predicted he would end up in this situation.

“Sometimes it is difficult to imagine what your life will bring,” he said. “You can make some plans, but there are still some certain events that will change your life.”

Edited by Matt Reed.