'China is a legal country and it does not have any so-called 'political refugees,' " the Chinese Foreign Ministry says. Tell that to Lu Decheng, the dissident who fled to Thailand after spending nine years in a Chinese prison for splashing paint on the giant portrait of Mao Zedong in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. If Mr. Lu is not a political refugee, then no one is. He was persecuted for his political views and faces more persecution if he is forced to go back home. That is why he is trying to come to Canada. Canada should not let him down.
Mr. Lu, a bus driver, was one of three men jailed for throwing paint at the Mao portrait during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. To make an example, China's Communist regime gave them sentences ranging from 16 years to life. Human-rights groups say the three were beaten and tortured for refusing to admit "counterrevolutionary" intent. Authorities kept Mr. Lu in solitary confinement for six months, cooping him up in a box-like cell with no ventilation or heating. When one of the men, Yu Dongyue, was finally released last month, he had been reduced to insanity by his imprisonment. Mr. Lu, released in 1998, travelled secretly to Thailand in 2004 and campaigned for Mr. Yu's release.
That angered the Chinese regime, which has been trying to get Mr. Lu, now in Thai detention, deported back to China. "Lu Decheng left China in violation of Chinese laws," the Foreign Ministry says. "The Chinese government is requesting his extradition back to China in absolute accordance with international rules."
If China were really a "legal country" -- one that paid respect to international rules -- it would not have jailed Mr. Lu for nine years in the first place. It would not make it illegal for citizens to leave the country, either. Only police states make their borders into prison walls.
Abused in the past and facing abuse in the future, Mr. Lu is a classic political refugee who deserves the protection of democratic nations. Ottawa should do everything it can to get him safely to Canadian shores, where he is hoping to find refuge. As The Globe's China correspondent Geoffrey York wrote in yesterday's paper, Mr. Lu's case is "an early test of the foreign policies of the Stephen Harper government in Ottawa, which has pledged to support human rights in China." When they were in opposition, Mr. Harper's Conservatives attacked the Liberal government for soft-pedalling human rights in its desire to drum up business with booming China. Here is the new government's chance to show it will act differently.