Out in the World: Amnesty International calls for release of Chinese transgender activist

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Thursday March 21, 2024
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Chinese transgender activist Lai Ke is in danger of being deported by Hong Kong to China, according to Amnesty International. Photo: Courtesy Amnesty International/ Private
Chinese transgender activist Lai Ke is in danger of being deported by Hong Kong to China, according to Amnesty International. Photo: Courtesy Amnesty International/ Private

Amnesty International and Chinese and Hong Kong LGBTQ activists are calling for authorities to clarify the pending immigration status of Chinese transgender activist Lai Ke.

Supporters of Lai, who is also known as Xiran, believe she is under threat of potentially being repatriated to mainland China. They are calling upon Hong Kong to either allow her to stay in the city, which is a special administrative region of China, or travel to a destination of her choice.

A vocal advocate for transgender rights in China, alongside her unidentified partner, Lai faced police harassment before she left the country in May 2023, her friends told Amnesty International.

Lai's partner, who is also a transgender person, was imprisoned in China for her activism in June 2023, the couple's friends said.

Sarah Brooks, Amnesty International's China director, stated, "Time is of the essence to prevent Lai from being unlawfully deported to mainland China," in the organization's March 1 news release.

Brooks said that Lai "would be at grave risk of serious human rights violations — including arbitrary detention, unfair trial, and even torture and other ill-treatment — due to both her transgender identity and her activism."

Amnesty International has documented systematic oppression and discrimination of transgender people and the government's undermining LGBTI activism online and offline in China. The Bay Area Reporter previously reported China's large-scale censorship with the shutdown of LGBTQ and feminist organizations, university departments, and personal accounts on WeChat in 2021. The only remaining LGBTQ community center in Beijing closed late last year.

Police in China have repeatedly arrested, detained, and imprisoned human rights defenders — including LGBTQ activists — for lengthy periods under unjustified, broadly defined and vaguely worded charges, Amnesty International noted in the release.

"Authorities must free her without conditions and allow her to travel onwards to a destination feasible for her," Brooks stated, adding that Hong Kong "authorities must allow Lai to legally challenge any deportation order following her release after serving her sentence."

According to Amnesty International, Lai was detained for questioning at Hong Kong International Airport in May 2023. The activist was transferring flights en route from Shanghai to Toronto. However, at trial she was convicted and sentenced before she was able to have a meeting with the lawyer hired on her behalf.

Lai was represented by a duty lawyer and pleaded guilty to three immigration charges at her trial, according to Amnesty International. Hong Kong officials convicted her of using "forged" documents to travel on June 16, 2023. Her first meeting with her lawyer was on July 20, 2023, more than one month after her trial and conviction.

Radio Free Asia reported that Lai's parents weren't informed of her whereabouts until July 19, 2023.

Lai spent 15 months at the Siu Lam Psychiatric Center in Hong Kong, a psychiatric detention facility where authorities usually hold transgender detainees, and was released early for good behavior March 2, according to Amnesty International.

However, it is unclear if either demand to allow Lai to travel or challenge any deportation order will be met. Radio Free Asia reported that Lai was immediately transferred to the Castle Peak Bay Immigration Detention Center upon her release. This has raised concerns among her supporters.

The Reverend Franco Mella, a Hong Kong Catholic priest and rights activist, told RFA it is unclear how long Lai might be held at the Castle Peak detention center.

Additionally, Brooks and Lai's friends and supporters claim that at the psychiatric center, she was denied access to hormone therapy, held in solitary confinement for "complaining about being denied her medical treatment," and forced to cut her hair short.

The Lai Ke (Xiran) Global Concern Group has been established and the campaign @FreeLaiKe was launched to raise awareness about Lai's situation. The group told RFA that she requested her medication, which was in her luggage, and was denied it for two months. It caused Lai physical and psychological suffering, they said.

Lai has been able to communicate with friends and supporters in handwritten letters in classical Chinese, an archaic form of the language used by pre-modern writers, to avoid censorship writing about her situation, reported RFA.

The activists' friends and supporters accused Hong Kong authorities of being complicit in the Chinese government's persecution of transgender people, reported RFA.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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