Australia urged to grant China scholar asylum

BEIJING, Agencies

A group of high-profile Chinese dissidents has appealed to Australian Prime Minister John Howard to give political asylum to a Chinese scholar and his assistant, according a copy of the letter seen Monday.

The letter, signed by well-known democracy activists Wang Dan and Xu Wenli, was released as Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was in Beijing Monday for a two-day visit with Chinese officials.

The letter concerns Yuan Hongbing, a law professor and longtime rule of law and democracy advocate, and his assistant Zhao Jing, who slipped away from a tour group at Sydney airport on July 21 and applied for political asylum.

“From the country conditions of China and our sufferings, we strongly believe that Mr. Yuan and Ms. Zhao are facing the risk of arrest, imprisonment, and torture should they get returned to China,” the letter said.

Zhao’s application was rejected in early August. She is appealing the decision.

China has urged Australia to “properly handle” Yuan’s case, suggesting he should be treated as an illegal immigrant.

The dissidents said the Australian government may have come under pressure from China and they feared its quick rejection of Zhao’s application — within a week of its filing — could mean Yuan’s application would be denied as well.

They urged Australia to abide by its international agreements.

“Mr. Yuan and Ms. Zhao are refugees under the international refugee law which has been adopted by the Australian government,” the group of 14 dissidents wrote.

Yuan said he fled China because authorities learned he secretly wrote four novels on sensitive political issues, including China’s abuses against Tibetans and Mongolians, and planned to imprison him.

Zhao, who helped Yuan transcribe his writings into electronic form, distribute them in China and take them to Australia, would also face imminent arrest if she returned to China.