Canadian woman fears father is in Chinese custody for speaking out on human rights

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

There has been no word of Dong Guangping's fate since he was arrested Aug. 24 by Vietnamese police.

His daughter Katherine Dong, who lives in Toronto with her mother, fears he has been handed over to Chinese authorities.

"He loves his family and he is a courageous survivor," she said Thursday at a news conference in Ottawa.

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

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 accepted for resettlement to Canada as a government-assisted refugee, but Ottawa was not able to persuade Vietnamese officials to allow him to leave Vietnam and travel to Canada.

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

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 fled to Thailand in 2015 with his wife and daughter, who were resettled to Canada as refugees. However, Thailand sent Dong back to China. After another stint in prison, he tried again to leave, finally making it to Vietnam in January 2020.

Katherine Dong and supporters planned to deliver 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.

"I was told by the Canadian government that they no longer have any news from Vietnamese officials about my father," she said, trying to hold back tears.

"Why would they refuse to tell us if he's OK? Why would they refuse to let him travel to Canada and be reunited with his family? Is it because Vietnam has handed my father over to China?"

Neve, now a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa, said it is "quite a diplomatic slap" that Vietnam is not providing information to Canada concerning Dong's status.

Vietnam's embassy in Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Global Affairs Canada spokesman Grantly Franklin said Canada is deeply worried about Dong's safety and well-being, 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," Franklin said.

"Canada stands ready to assist in reuniting him with his family. Canada urges the government of Vietnam to respect his refugee status and its international responsibilities for human rights."

Neve said the "strong response" from the Canadian government has included overtures from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly as they attend international meetings this month in Asia.

"I think that's encouraging for all of us. It's certainly encouraging for the family," Neve said. "And I think it's vital that that continues."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2022.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press