Chinese Christian family escapes from Bangkok jail to America

A Chinese Christian family facing deportation has managed to escape to the United States from a jail in Bangkok with the help of a Texas-based Christian rights activist and American Embassy officials.

(REUTERS / Athit Perawongmetha)Suspected Uighurs from China's troubled far-western region of Xinjiang, sit inside a temporary shelter after they were detained at the immigration regional headquarters near the Thailand-Malaysia border in Hat Yai, Songkla March 14, 2014.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Chen Guiqiu and her supporters revealed for the first time the details of her family's ordeal in China and their escape from Bangkok. When the Chinese government launched a massive crackdown on human rights lawyers in 2015, her husband Xie was detained and charged with crimes against the state.

Chen was summoned by police in January when she publicized her husband's story of abuse, sleep deprivation, and torture while in detention. She was reportedly threatened with eviction, loss of education for her children and unemployment as part of the authorities' apparent effort to force Xie to confess to the allegations against him. Chen later decided to get in touch with Christian rights activist Bob Fu in Texas, who is known to have aided the escape of some high-profile dissidents from China.

On Feb. 19, Chen took her two daughters and traveled to a safehouse in Bangkok whose owners were acquainted with Fu. Unfortunately, Chinese authorities somehow found out that they were in Thailand and forced her father, sister, relatives, friends, and employer to fly to Bangkok to find her.

On March 2, a Chinese translator directed Thai police to the safehouse and detained Chen and her daughters. They also confiscated her belongings and had her appear before immigration court the following day where the judge ordered her to be deported.

While inside the Bangkok jail, Chen prayed, "Don't desert us now, not like this." Later, U.S. Embassy officials entered the facility and took the Chinese family out through a back door. Chinese agents went after them at the Bangkok airport. There, a heated argument took place among the Chinese, Thai, and U.S. officials, but the Christian family eventually arrived in the U.S. on March 17. Fu, however, did not reveal the details of what happened.

Back in China, Christians continue to be targeted in the nationwide crackdown. In late February, China Aid ran a story on five Christian leaders in Liaoning province who were sentenced to jail for buying and selling Christian literature. The devotional materials were said to be officially prohibited.

The five Christian leaders were arrested in June last year and were sentenced to jail on Feb. 22. Most of them were part of a Korean ethnic minority group living in China and members of registered churches.

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