Whereabouts of Chinese lawyer detained in Laos remains a mystery

Patrick Poon 潘嘉偉
3 min readAug 16, 2023

Since Chinese human rights lawyer Lu Siwei was taken away and detained by the police in Laos on 27 July 2023 when he was prepared to board a train for Thailand, in the hope of flying to the United States to reunite with his wife Zhang Chunxiao and their daughter, there has been no news about his whereabouts.

Is he still being detained by the police in Laos or has he been deported to China as many have expressed concerns about such possibility?

I'm sure Lu and other Chinese human rights lawyers and activists never have any illusion about safety in Laos, given its grave human rights records, but why would human rights lawyers like Lu Siwei still risk his own safety to cross the Chinese border and try his luck for such a knowingly risky journey?

Like many dissidents in China, Lu Siwei was under tight surveillance by the Chinese authorities. It remains a mystery why the Chinese authorities would allow him to leave China. According to Lu Siwei’s wife Zhang Chunxiao, he possessed a valid Chinese passport and valid visas to Laos and the US. So, it also remains a mystery on what legitimate grounds for the Laotian authorities to arrest him.

United Nations’ human rights experts have raised concern by issuing a statement urging the Laotian authorities not to deport Lu Siwei with reference to the requirements of international human rights law on non-refoulement principle that no one should be returned to a country with potential risk of torture and other ill-treatment. The experts’ opinion echoed the concerns raised in an earlier joint statement by 85 organisations.

Yet, where is Lu Siwei now? It’s another mystery. We can only hope that he’s not yet deported to China, or he would very likely be incarcerated and exposed to potential risk of torture and other ill-treatment considering the harsh treatment and harassment he faced in the past. Like what the UN experts have pointed out, Lu Siwei is “at risk of imminent deportation to China, where there are substantial grounds to believe that he would be in danger of being subjected to irreparable harm upon return, on account of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. He is also at risk of other serious human rights violations, including arbitrary detention or enforced disappearance”.

A friend in the US who has been following the case closely told me that Japan’s voice might be critical in securing Lu Siwei’s safety as she learned from some US diplomats. There have been some Japanese media reports about Lu Siwei’s arrest in Laos but there has no voice from the Japanese government and any Japanese politicians on the case. Being an important actor in the international community, would Japan, the world’s third largest economy and a member of the G7 nations, speak up and raise concerns about Lu Siwei’s arrest and disappearance? It’s actually not a case so remote to Japan’s interest. If Japan keeps silent about such a case, it would give the international community the impression that it endorses or turns a blind eye to China’s transnational repression.

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Patrick Poon 潘嘉偉

在日本的香港人,常常在學習言論自由和文化 A Hong Konger in Japan, always studying freedom of expression and cultures 📧p@poon.jp