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Canadian supporters of missing Chinese human-rights defender want more information

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. Canadian supporters of Guangping, are disappointed with what they call a disingenuous response from Vietnamese officials to the United Nations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — Canadian supporters of Dong Guangping, a missing Chinese human-rights defender, are disappointed with what they call a disingenuous response from Vietnamese officials to the United Nations.

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

In mid-December, UN human-rights experts wrote to the Vietnamese government seeking answers about his whereabouts and well-being.

In a recent reply to the UN, the government said it had no information concerning Dong's presence in Vietnam.

Dong's daughter Katherine, who lives in Toronto with her mother, said in November she feared her father had been handed over to Chinese authorities.

Katherine Dong now questions whether the Vietnamese government is accountable to anyone concerning human rights.

"Vietnam ignored our family and ignored the Canadian government, but we were holding onto hope that they would take the United Nations seriously and finally disclose what has happened to my father," she said in a statement jointly released by the Toronto Association for Democracy in China and the Federation for a Democratic China.

"Who do we look to now? What is left?"

The association for democracy says Dong 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.

In their December letter, the UN experts sought assurances from Vietnam that steps be taken to establish Dong's fate and whereabouts and "prevent any irreparable harm to his life and personal integrity, and to halt the alleged violations."

In its March 15 response, the Vietnamese government said there is no arbitrary detention or enforced disappearance in Vietnam, adding only those who violate the law are detained and prosecuted.

Dong's sudden arrest last August came as a crushing disappointment for his family and for human-rights groups who had been supporting him, says the joint statement from the two Canadian groups promoting democracy in China.

"Vietnam's disingenuous response to the United Nations is yet another blow."

Global Affairs Canada said in November that the government was deeply worried about Dong's safety and well-being, and had been raising its concerns at the highest levels.

"Officials are working to ascertain his whereabouts, including through diplomatic engagement with both Vietnam and China,'' department spokesman Grantly Franklin said at the time.

Sheng Xue, chairperson of the Federation for a Democratic China, said the recent snub from Vietnam "must spur the Canadian government to take further action."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2023.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press