Two Chinese dissidents recognised as UN refugees who were forcibly deported from Thailand to China last month have appeared on Chinese state-run television and confessed to human-trafficking offences.
CCTV reported that Jiang Yefei was arrested for “assisting others to illegally cross the national border”, and Dong Guangping was charged with using a trafficking network to flee China while awaiting trial on sedition charges.
The families of the men allege Chinese officials targeted them because of their political activities, and were using the human-trafficking accusations as justification for their illegal deportation from Thailand.
Looking tired and speaking slowly, Jiang confessed to the charge. It was unclear whether he was under any duress.
“I know it is not legal to do such things and I am remorseful,” Jiang said. “From now on, I will try to control my behaviour and will not be involved in these activities any more.”
Democracy campaigner Sheng Xue told Al Jazeera it appeared Jiang had been beaten.
“It is very clear they have been forced to do this and it seems that at least Jiang Yefei has been tortured,” Sheng said. “We can see that he is very swollen in the face.”
It was the first time the two men were seen since being taken from a detention centre in the Thai capital Bangkok in November and deported to China.
Jiang is a prominent pro-democracy campaigner and creator of a controversial series of cartoons depicting Chinese President Xi Jinping in compromising situations.
UN status did not help
Both men fled China after being imprisoned for involvement in illegal human rights and pro-democracy movements.
They had been recognised as refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) and were granted resettlement in Canada. However, this international protection did not prevent their deportation from Thailand.
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The state television report emphasised the deportations were a joint operation between Thai and Chinese officials.
“According to Sino-Thai police coordination, the Thai police transferred the two criminal suspects to China for further investigation,” the report said.
Thailand’s military government has come under increased pressure from the international community for deporting Chinese dissidents to China, where rights groups say they could face prison and torture.
In July, 109 ethnic Muslim Uighurs were deported back to China from Thailand.
Three other Chinese citizens were sent to China with Dong and Jiang. Their identities have not been confirmed.
The CCTV report said Dong and Jiang were still being investigated for other offences and they are “allegedly guilty of other crimes”.