🇱🇦#JusticeForQiao: Chinese Digital Rights Activist Qiao Xinxin Abducted by Chinese Police in Laos
Another case of Transnational Repression
🚨 #JusticeForQiao: Advocating against digital dictatorship is a risky and courageous endeavor that can result in severe political persecution, even for exiled activists. One such case involves Qiao Xinxin, a 37-year-old former special correspondent for Radio Free Asia in Southeast Asia. Owing to his activism, Qiao fled China and sought refuge in Laos. According to reports from witnesses, he was seen taken by two Laotian and six Chinese police officers from his residence in Vientiane, Laos around May 31, 2023. His whereabouts remain unknown since.
Who is Qiao Xinxin and what was his digital rights advocacy?
Qiao, whose birth name is Yang Zewe, was born in August 1986 in Hunan Province, China and is the founder of a global online campaign called “Ban Great Firewall” also known as “BanGFW”. The movement is aimed at breaking down the cyber wall that prevents Chinese netizens from accessing free and independent information while also advocating for China to end its censorship.
The initiative was launched on March 8, 2023 and is supported by other fellow Chinese digital rights activists, lawyers and journalists such as Sheng Xue and Wang Qingpeng.
Since its creation, « Ban Great Firewall » engaged in a series of powerful activities, including the publishing of open letters and staging a street protest outside the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles.
Why did Qiao become a target of Transnational Repression by Chinese police in Laos?
While being based in Laos, Qiao has been tirelessly inviting netizens all around the world to join the movement by raising placards calling for the « Great Firewall » to be torn down, to contact different governments and to get in touch with the media. He added that joining the movement is quite easy as people just need to display the #banGFW sign or to post it on the web.
The activist also published a handbook called « Handbook of Ban GFW Movement » on April 5, 2023 to help netizens better understand the goal of the movement and to share practices on how to spread the campaign further.
The movement quickly drew the Chinese regime’s attention and according to Qiao, a Chinese secret police initiated a special month-long battle against the movement.
What were China’s transnational repression measures against Qiao Xinxin?
Transnational repression measures from governments can take various forms, ranging from digital threats to the threat or harassment of friends and family of activists back home.
In April 2023, Qiao posted a screenshot of messages sent to him by his brother to tell him that Chinese authorities were harassing and threatening their family back in China.
"The Internet police of the Ministry of Public Security of the Communist Party of China have threatened my family and asked me to delete comments that are harmful to China. Otherwise, I will be arrested. Of course, I don't care about them, they are a violator", Qiao Xinxin said in a statement to VOA Chinese on April 2023.
Qiao was well aware that even in exile in Laos, he was still not safe. For that reason, on April 20, 2023 he published a “Declaration to not commit suicide” where he stated that he still loves this world and it’s impossible for him to commit suicide in his 30s. He also calls on his supporters to protest in front of Chinese Communist Party’s embassies should he ever disappear for more than 48 hours online.
Ultimately, his abduction was ill-fated and discovered by his friends; this insidious initiative by the authorities occurred before June 4, 2023, which was the 34th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Qiao's story is yet another case raising concerns about the safety of individuals seeking refuge from political persecution.
More details on what exactly hapenned?
On May 28, Qiao visited Chinatown in Vientiane to fulfill some tasks required for the activities of his movement. The following day, he discovered that his phone number was nonfunctional, prompting him to notify others via a message that he intended to procure a fresh SIM card.
On June 2, Qiao's friends finally noticed that it had been 48 hours since he last posted on Twitter or messaged them on Telegram, or in any of their different chat groups. According to Wang Qingpeng, the last time anyone saw Yang online was at 17:56 on May 31st.
On June 3, Qiao's group assigned a volunteer, named Ziyang (a pseudonym), to search for Qiao. When Ziyang arrived at Yang's place, he discovered that the door was locked. Ziyang communicated with Qiao's Laotian neighbors and learned the distressing truth. The neighbor had witnessed two Laotian and six Chinese police officers arriving at Qiao's residence, and taking him away a few days prior, confirming their worst fears.
According to Feng Ye, a fellow activist who often partook in movements with Qiao, there is unverified information from the Hunan Chamber of Commerce in Laos suggesting that an individual within the circle of overseas Chinese leaders of the Chamber of Commerce discreetly collaborated with the Chinese police to abduct Qiao Xinxin. This collaboration involved providing the Chinese authorities with detailed information about Qiao Xinxin's whereabouts in Vientiane, including his address, lifestyle patterns, and daily habits.
Based on latest news reports, Qiao was taken to an undisclosed location, leaving the question whether he was already deported back to China or if he’s still somewhere in Laos entirely unanswered.
China’s notorious practice of TNR against exiled activists. Activist group member Lin, also known as 'James' Shengliang, contacted the police in Lingguan Town, Hunan Province, Qiao's hometown in China, for three consecutive days from June 6 to June 8 to inquire about his arrest.
After Lin persistently questioned the Lingguan police, officers eventually admitted they were not in charge of dealing with Qiao’s case but that a special taskforce was. According to Wang Nan, a fellow activist in the #BanGFW movement, it is frequent for Chinese police to engage “in cross-border law enforcement” activities in Thailand and Laos.
In November 2022, a Chinese citizen of Mongolian ethnicity, who fled the country following his participation in protests in 2020 against the ban on Mongolian-medium teaching in schools, reported being detained by Chinese state security police in Bangkok.
In most cases, translational repression cases involve the cooperation of a host country. For Qiao’s case, attempts by supporters to reach out to the Lao government, the Lao embassy in Washington DC, and its permanent mission to the UN in Geneva have yielded no response.
Our Call to Action
✊🏻 Manushya Foundation calls on the international community to stand in solidarity with Chinese Human Rights Defender Qiao Xinxin following his deeply concerning abduction, thus closely keeping both the Chinese government and Lao government in check and accountable for the disappearance!
✊🏻 We urge the Lao Government as well as the Chinese Government to stop perpetuating Transnational Repression against human rights defenders under the name of ‘national security’, ‘stability’ and ‘development’!
✊🏼 Manushya Foundation urges both the Lao and Chinese governments to promptly, thoroughly and transparently investigate his disappearance! His friends and family need an answer to a very simple question: “Where is Qiao Xinxin ?” !
#WeAreManushyan ♾ Equal Human Beings
Weiquanwang, Urgent attention: Qiao Xinxin, founder of the Wall Demolition Movement, was arrested by the CCP police across the country, (4 June 2023) available at: https://wqw2010.blogspot.com/2023/06/blog-post_58.html
Chinese Human Rights Defender, Tweet: Digital activist, journalist Yang Zewei (aka Qiao Xinxin) has gone missing in his Laos, (4 June 2023) available at: https://twitter.com/CHRDnet/status/1665351234742624256
Spotlight on China, Tweet: The founder of ‘Ban Great Fire Wall’ threatened while out of the country, (28 April 2023), available at: https://twitter.com/spotlightoncn/status/1651907447395606532?s=61&t=ITYYi7IpgZ-zuPwX8g-yGw
The Epoch Times, Tear Down the CCP Internet Firewall, Says Global BanGFW Organizer, (21 April 2023) available at: https://www.theepochtimes.com/tear-down-the-ccp-internet-firewall-says-global-bangfw-organizer_5211705.html
Freedom House, Freedom on The Net 2022: China, (accessed on 7 June 2023) available at: https://freedomhouse.org/country/china/freedom-net/2022
Safe Guard Defenders, Disappearance of Chinese critic in Laos, feared kidnapped (June 19, 2023), available at: https://safeguarddefenders.com/en/blog/disappearance-chinese-critic-laos-feared-kidnapped
RFA, Chinese activist missing from Vientiane after launching anti-censorship campaign (June 6, 2023), available at: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/laos-china-activist-06132023163801.html
Asia News, Beijing Arrests Anti-Censorship Activist Refugee in Laos (June 7, 2023), available at:https://www.asianews.it/noticias-es/Beijing-arresta-a-activista-anticensura-refugiado-en-Laos-58538.html
Voice of America Chinese, 美国关切拆墙运动发起人乔鑫鑫安危 中共被指跨国绑架破坏国际秩序, (June 12, 2023 ), available at: https://www.voachinese.com/a/follow-up-bangfw-movement-founder-s-arrest-in-laos-20230612/7132872.html
While you are here…
Joint Solidarity Statement: Thailand/Laos: Investigate The Killing of Lao Refugee and Put an End to Transnational Repression of Human Rights Defenders, 26 May, 2023.
#JusticeForBounsuan: Another Lao Activist Gunned Down! This time, he’s DEAD!, May 26, 2023.
News Release: Responsible governments and implicated companies must ensure safety and effective access to information of communities living near the Nam Theun 1 dam in Laos, 23 August 2022.
News Release: Lao Government and Implicated Companies Must Deliver Justice for Survivors of 2018 Attapeu Dam Collapse, 26 July 2022.
Follow-up UN Complaint to seek Justice for the Survivors of the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy Dam Collapse, in Attapeu Province, Laos, 28 February 2022.
#Freemuay from jail in Laos: Campaign to Free Lao woman human rights defender Ms. Houayheuang Xayabouly (Muay) and stop the human rights violations against her.
Manushya’s Foundation UPR Factsheet to inform Lao PDR’s Third UPR: Overview of the Human Rights Situation in Lao PDR - Legal Framework, Challenges, Case Studies & Community-led UPR Recommendations, January 2020.
Joint Statement: One year after the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy dam collapse, civil society from Korea and the Mekong call for immediate accountability and redress, 23 July 2019.
Joint Submission with the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) to the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for Lao PDR Third UPR Cycle, 21 July 2019.