“Don’t get involved. Don’t ask so much. I’m doing fine.”
Those were the first words a journalist told his wife after being missing for about a month.
Li Xin, editor of the Chinese newspaper Southern Metropolitan Daily, had gone missing in January while en route to Laos from Thailand. The 37-year-old had fled China fearing being persecuted by Chinese authorities after speaking out against the Chinese government.
Li had publicly stated that security officials coerced him into becoming an informant spying on fellow journalists and NGOs in the country. Li said he was threatened to accept the offer or face espionage charges.
He also revealed details about the government’s censorship of the media including a circulated list of topics off-limits to reporters.
His wife, He Fangmei, recently had a phone conversation with Li at a police station in Henan province. She told the New York Times that Li told her he had voluntarily returned to China to aid in an investigation.
“I said to him, ‘Where are you? Just where are you? Tell me. At the very least, I have to find a lawyer for you. But the line was silent for a long time, and I knew someone at his side was telling him what to say’,” the Times quoted her as saying.
Li’s wife says he would not reveal where in China he was located or details about the case he was being investigated for. She also said Li would interrupt her every time she tried asking him a question.
Li was seeking official refuge in Thailand after failing to apply for an American Visa in India last October. In January, he sent his wife a message indicating he was approaching Thailand’s northeastern border with Laos.
That was the last form of communication she had with Li before the last phone call.
Yan Bojun, a friend of Li and a Chinese refugee living in Thailand, says he last saw Li on January 9.
“I warned him to be very careful in Thailand,” Bojun said. “It is very dangerous here. The CCP is very strong here.”
According to Thailand authorities, immigration records don’t indicate Li ever left the country.
“There is no indication whatsoever that Mr. Li Xin was abducted from Thailand,” said a Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Li is the latest Chinese activist to return to China to aid in an investigation under suspicious circumstances.
Gui Minhai, a publisher connected to a Hong Kong bookstore selling controversial titles critical of the Chinese government, went missing from his Bangkok apartment in October. He resurfaced on Chinese sate TV last month, where he claimed he had voluntarily returned to China to face drunken-driving charges linked to the death of a college student more than 10 years ago..