HONG KONG—A recently disbarred rights lawyer says he has been banned by Chinese border police from leaving the country.
Attorney Tang Jitian said in an interview Monday that he had been stopped by security officers in the southern China city of Shenzhen as he prepared to cross the border into neighboring Hong Kong on Sunday before continuing his trip overseas.
“When approaching booth No. 20 at customs, I was suddenly stopped by the police officer at the window, who called his bosses as well as two guards to keep me from leaving. Then two border control officers came and checked my documents,” Tang said.
“They led me to another place. After about half an hour, the border officers said they had received instructions from upper-level management that I was not allowed to exit. I asked for the reason but they refused to explain,” he said.
“I said, ‘Your actions have neither legal basis nor justified reason. You deprived the rights of a citizen to travel abroad.’ But they answered that they were simply carrying out the order,” Tang added.
Tang Jitian and another rights lawyer, Liu Wei, were disbarred by legal authorities in Beijing last month for “procedural infractions.”
The decisions resulted from a complaint by a court in Luzhou, in southwestern Sichuan province, where Tang and Liu defended Falun Gong practitioner Yang Ming in his appeal of a trial in April of last year. The action was widely criticized as China’s latest move against human rights lawyers.
The court rejected Yang’s appeal of his conviction for “using an evil cult to destroy implementation of the law,” and Yang is currently serving his five-year sentence, according to Human Rights in China. The Chinese government officially considers the Falun Gong spiritual movement an illegal, “evil cult.”
On Monday, Tang said he believes that the ban against travel overseas is related to his defense of the Falun Gong practitioner.
“I feel that the two things are connected. They fear my foreign trip could result in the exposure of illegal activities in China’s judiciary system. They have done bad things but still attempted to conceal them.”
Meanwhile, he insisted that all his defense practices were legal.
Lawyer Liu Wei said Monday that she had also received harsh scrutiny when crossing into Hong Kong two months ago.
“The border police asked me many questions, such as where I work, why I was traveling to Hong Kong, and even the whole itinerary of my trip. I believe my name might be on a blacklist,” Liu said.
She said she would likely meet the same fate as Tang and face a ban on traveling abroad because she had defended a Falun Gong practitioner.
“It is only because we defended a Falun Gong practitioner that our names will be on the blacklist.”
However, Liu pointed out that “As a part of the government, border control authorities should only act based on the law. Prohibiting a citizen from traveling abroad without providing a reason—this action equals negligence.”
In Hong Kong, the news of Tang Jitian being barred from leaving China caused concern among rights activists.
Poon Kawai, a spokesman for the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG), said Monday that Beijing should stop pressuring rights lawyers.
“The authorities revoked Tang’s license and then banned him from coming to Hong Kong or travelling overseas. This is an audacious violation of his rights. We urge Chinese authorities to cease persecution of Chinese rights lawyers such as Tang,” he said.
CHRLCG is a nonprofit organization based in Hong Kong. It calls for the protection of the legal rights of rights lawyers and other rights defenders in China.
Crackdown on Human Rights Lawyers
The revocation of the lawyers' licenses may have come as part of a wider crackdown on human rights lawyers.
In early 2009, Tang and Liu were among a group of lawyers who filed a complaint against Beijing government offices over newly instituted fees for lawyers’ annual license registration, complaining that the new fees were “blackmailing and extortion.”
In May 2009, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice refused to renew the licenses of over 50 lawyers, including Tang and Liu. But until May 7, Tang and Liu had avoided having their licenses permanently revoked.
Teng Biao, a legal scholar who represented Tang and Liu at the hearing, called the revocation of the licenses “an act of revenge taken by the judicial bureau.”
Original reporting by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Ping Chen. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.