Thailand has earned an international frown once again this week -- and rightly so -- for forcibly deporting two Chinese dissidents back to China despite their registered refugee status and already prepared plans to resettle in a third country.
The two democracy activists -- Jiang Yefei and Dong Guangping -- were arrested and deported only days before they were due to leave Thailand to resettle in Canada. Their families left Thailand for Canada on Wednesday; the whereabouts and safety of their husbands and fathers remain unknown.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) called the repatriation "a serious disappointment, and underscores the long-standing gap in Thai domestic law concerning ensuring appropriate treatment of people with international protection needs".
Amnesty International said the two dissidents are "at grave risk of torture and other ill-treatment, as well as unfair trials in China".
Human Rights Watch slammed the forced repatriation as "cruel" and "unlawful". Apart from violating international law and Thailand's obligation under the torture convention, it also betrays the prime minister's pledge to uphold rights at the UN General Assembly.
This is yet another blow to Thailand's international reputation following the May 22 coup and forced deportation of Uighur asylum seekers in July -- not to mention the unresolved problem of human trafficking, slave labour and illegal fishing.
The international community now demands an explanation from Thailand as to why it sent legitimate refugees certified by the UN to face persecution they had escaped from. The government must respond or its reputation may be further tainted.
Legally, Thailand does not recognise the status of refugees and asylum seekers because it refuses to sign the refugee convention for fear of being swamped by an influx of refugees. But every government insists it always observes the convention in actual practice.
Deporting legitimate refugees and breaking up their families, however, is clearly against the convention and basic morality.
Before the forced deportation of two Chinese dissidents, a Hong Kong publisher, Gui Minghai, disappeared from his holiday home in Thailand. His firm specialises in books critical of Chinese leaders. His colleagues are also missing.
The government has been silent on the publisher's disappearance although he was last seen in Thailand. It might do the same with the repatriation of the two Chinese activists. This is not acceptable.
There is an expensive lesson to learn from the forced repatriation of Uighur refugees in July. To appease the international outcry, a team was dispatched to visit the deported Uighurs. Everyone was safe, they said. No one believed it. Two months later, the Erawan shrine was bombed, killing 20 people. Authorities insisted it was not terrorism and the bombing was not linked to the Uighur deportation. The public believe otherwise.
As in the repatriation of the Uighur refugees, it is clear that the forced deportation of Mr Jiang and Mr Dong is part of Thailand returning China the favour for coup acceptance.
When spurned by Western powers, China's open arms may help mend the regime's shaken confidence. But now comes the time when the government must ask if the cost of having to submit to China's pressure has become too high.
If the regime wants to restore Thailand's standing, it must observe international human rights standards and not muzzle people. Helping China to silence dissidents will taint the country's name only further.