Skip to main content

'I fear the worst': Canadian says missing father may be in Chinese custody for speaking out

Share
OTTAWA -

The daughter of a missing Chinese human rights defender is pleading with the Vietnamese and Chinese governments to reveal her father's whereabouts and allow him to travel to Canada.

Dong Guangping, an activist who has previously spoken out against China’s attempts to erase the bloody outcome of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protest, has “disappeared,” according to his daughter.

Dong, a 64-year-old activist, was arrested on Aug. 24 in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, where he had fled after being released from prison in China.

His daughter, Katherine Dong, is a Toronto university student and became a Canadian citizen this past summer. The 22-year-old student has not heard from her father for more than 80 days and fears he has been handed over to Chinese authorities.

"He didn’t want me to live in a country without human rights…Heloves his family and he is a courageous survivor," Katherine said Thursday at a news conference in Ottawa.

"I want to hold on to hope, but I fear the worst."

Katherine Dong listens to a question from a reporter as she takes part in a news conference for the release of her father Dong Guangping, on Parliament Hill, Thursday, November 17, 2022 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Alongside her at the event were representatives of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China and the Federation for a Democratic China, as well as Alex Neve, former secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.

The association for democracy says Dong Guangping has been granted asylum in Canada, but Ottawa was not able to persuade Vietnamese officials to allow him to leave the country.

Dong had been hiding in Vietnam for 31 months while trying to make it to freedom.

According to Neve, the family has been told that Dong’s case has been raised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly in recent international meetings with leaders of Southeast Asia in Cambodia and at the G20 summit in Indonesia.

In a statement to CTV News, Global Affairs Canada says it is “deeply worried about Mr. Dong’s safety and wellbeing and has been raising our concerns at the highest levels. Officials are working to ascertain his whereabouts, including through diplomatic engagement with both Vietnam and China.”

The tension between China and Canada played out in front of cameras during an interaction between the Prime Minister and Premier Xi Jinping, when the Chinese leader criticized Trudeau for allegedly “leaking” information about their discussions.

DETAINED FOR DISSENT

Dong's supporters say he was fired from his job as a police officer in China in 1999 because he signed a public letter related to the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

He was later imprisoned for three years on charges of "inciting subversion of state power."

“Dong Guangping, like other courageous activists in China, has refused to let themselves be silent around Tiananmen. The Chinese government brutally represses any attempts, including those by relatives of students who were killed to hold ceremonies memorializing their deaths - let alone more forceful campaigns insisting that the truth be told,” said Neve, who is now a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa.

Dong Guangping, an activist who has previously spoken out against China's attempts to erase the bloody outcome of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protest, has “disappeared,” according to his daughter.

THREE ATTEMPTS AT ESCAPE

Dong fled to Thailand in 2015 with his wife and daughter, who were resettled to Canada as refugees, but he couldn’t get out. Despite being designated as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Thailand sent Dong back to China where he was imprisoned for another three-and-a-half years.

In 2019, Dong tried to escape again by swimming from China’s east coast to an island under the control of Taiwan.

His daughter, Katherine, says her father swam for 12 hours before “he couldn’t bear it anymore” and was rescued by a Chinese fishing trawler.

In January 2020, the human rights activist fled a third time, and successfully made it across the border to northern Vietnam. Katherine says while hiding in Hanoi, her father was moved from one safe house to another while the Canadian government worked behind the scenes to secure travel documents for him.

The Dong family was initially asked by Global Affairs Canada to stay silent to allow diplomats to negotiate his release. Despite the delicate balancing game, Neve said the family made the decision to speak publicly after it became clear that Canadian officials had not heard anything about Dong for weeks.

“Every hour, every day, and every week that goes past without knowing where he is, without knowing anything about his fate means really the danger he faces will only deepen. Being silent won’t help,” said Neve.

It’s unknown how many human rights activists with Canadian ties are imprisoned in China, but Dong’s detention parallels the case of Uyghur-Canadian Huseyin Celil.

While on an overseas trip visiting his wife’s family in Uzbekistan in March 2006, China asked the Uzbek government to arrest Celil and extradite him. Celil has been in prison now for more than 16 years.

Fearing a similar fate for her father, Katherine Dong and supporters delivered personal appeal letters Thursday to the Chinese and Vietnamese embassies in Ottawa.

She is asking the two governments to allow Canadian officials to visit her father immediately, and to let him come to Canada without any further delay.

With files from The Canadian Press

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

Local Spotlight

Peek inside the new dinosaur exhibit opening at UBC

It’s been roughly 66 million years since dinosaurs roamed the earth. And when you see this fossil cast of a daspletosaurus in tight quarters – you wouldn’t want the gap between our times on this planet to be any closer.

Stay Connected