Beijing evictee Wang Ling arrived in Thailand on Monday to apply for political asylum with the United Nations in Bangkok, citing years of persecution from the authorities in her home country after she pursued complaints against local officials.
Wang, who began seeking redress after her family home was demolished in 2003, arrived in the Thai capital in the earlier hours of Monda morning, to be greeted by her son, Miao Juyou, who arrived there last month.
"I have been in and out of jail, sometimes formally, sometimes with no formal procedures," Wang told RFA. "I was sentenced to a year and three months in labor camp in 2008, but I never thought that I'd keep going back to prison after I got out."
"I have never stopped petitioning ... I have now been detained a total of 11 times, and I have had to rent a place to live after my home was demolished [by the government]," she said.
She said she had received death threats from the police, which she took seriously.
"They told me that if I carried on petitioning, that they would kill me," she said. "Wherever my son tried to get a job, the police would go there and make trouble for him, so that his boss had no option [but to fire him]."
She said recent deaths in police custody, including that of environmental consultant Lei Yang and two petitioners in Hunan's Luoyang city had made her fear for her life.
"Those women in Luoyang were beaten to death and then set on fire," she said. "We are running for our lives."
Years of constant police harassment
Petitioners Wang Shetao and Li Xiaocui, of Luoyang's Liangzhai village, reportedly burned to death in murky circumstances last Monday after a fire at a police station, official media reported.
Activists say cases like that of Lei Yang, whose death in police custody led to the firing of several police officers last year, are constantly emerging, fueling public anger with the government and growing fear among any who complain about their treatment.
Wang said she has endured many years of constant police harassment even after the Beijing police department ruled in her favor after she complained.
"Wherever I tried to rent a place, the police would catch up with me and force to me to leave that place," Wang said.
"If I refused, they would send a gang of men round to smash down the door and take everything in our home, so there was nothing left," she said.
Wang said the most recent attack on her home was Dec. 3, when a gang of thugs smashed in the door and cut off her electricity.
"They took everything and pushed me out onto the street," she said.
Wang, whose labor camp sentence and petitioning activities have been documented by the Hubei-based Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch website, said it was impossible to live a normal life because she was forced to keep moving to hide from the police.
Thailand-based political refugee Xing Jiang said he plans to help the pair lodge their applications with the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok.
"They are planning ... to seek political asylum, on the basis of ... their 2003 eviction and the 2008 forced demolition, their repeated attempts to seek redress, her detention [in labor camp] in 2008 and her detention during the G20 summit [last September in Hangzhou]," Xing told RFA.
"She told me that she has had her home turned over [by thugs] five times during 2016," he said.
Wang's son Miao said he had landed in Bangkok on Dec. 18 ahead of his mother to maximize the chances of their both getting through Chinese border controls.
"Luckily she got here safely, but she couldn't sleep before she left, because she was so scared of getting stopped," Miao told RFA.
He said life back in China had become untenable for him, too, as a result of his mother's petitioning.
"The police were forever terrorizing me and threatening me," Miao said. "I had no way to hold down a job because whenever I found a job, they would come and cause trouble for me with my employers, for sure."
China's army of petitioners are routinely detained by "interceptors," law enforcement officers from their hometowns, if they try to take a complaint to a higher level of government.
They also frequently report beatings, harassment of landlords and employers, and incarceration in psychiatric hospitals when they have no mental illness.
Deaths and "disappearances" in unofficial detention centers, or "black jails," are also not uncommon, but evidence of police wrong-doing is hard to come by when the authorities typically refuse to allow independent autopsies.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.