HONG KONG—Authorities in Beijing and Shanghai have prevented two prominent rights lawyers from leaving the country, and detained a third on charges of "disturbing the peace."
Li Subin was stopped from boarding a flight by border guards at Beijing's International Airport, while Jiang Tianyong was prevented from getting on a flight at Shanghai's Pudong International Airport.
Both men were on their way to the United States to observe the democratic process of the mid-term elections and build contacts with the U.S.-based legal profession, they said.
"It was about 7 a.m. on Oct. 30, as I was going through immigration at Terminal 3 of Beijing's Capital Airport," Li said.
"They stopped me at the border exit saying there was a problem with my passport and that they would have to check it," he said.
But Li said he had already been on several overseas trips, including to Europe, with no problems reported with his passport before.
"They told me their superiors had ordered it to be checked, and they took it away," Li said.
He said officials had told him they were acting on police orders.
"They said they'd been told by the Beijing national security police not to let me out of the country," Li added. "Later, I got in touch with the national security police ... and they told me I wasn't allowed to leave China."
"He told me that the restriction wouldn't be easy to lift, now that it was in place."
An official who answered the phone on Sunday at the Beijing national security police declined to comment on Li's case.
"I have no obligation to answer your questions," the official said.
According to the U.S.-based Christian group China Aid, both Li and Jiang had accepted invitations for academic exchanges with American legal scholars and to observe processes of the mid-term elections.
It said both men were Christians but did not point out whether this was relevant to the exit ban.
Jiang was also prevented from leaving the country at Pudong international airport, it said.
China Aid founder Bob Fu said that the treatment of both men was unacceptable.
"Both men were genuinely advancing the rule of law in China," Fu said.
Calls to Jiang's mobile went unanswered with a "mobile phone switched off" message on Sunday.
Jiang was one of the lawyers acting on behalf of missing lawyer Gao Zhisheng, while Li has previously testified to an EU parliamentary human rights committee on the human rights situation in China.
Li has also represented blind Shandong rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who is still being held under house arrest in the wake of a four-year jail term.
Meanwhile, Beijing police detained Protestant house-church leader Fan Yafeng, who heads a group of Christian human rights lawyers on Saturday morning.
"Yesterday, some police officers from the Shuangyushu police station took me down to the police station yet again for causing a so-called disturbance," Fan said on Sunday.
"They forced me to cancel a discussion meeting that we had planned at the office that afternoon. They took me to the Shuangyushu Guesthouse, which is near my home [and kept me there] from 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.," he said.
"A national security policeman told me that from today I was forbidden to hold any meetings at my home or at my office, including today's prayer meeting."
Fan said he believed an alleged noise complaint was made simply as a pretext to get him away from his house ahead of the prayer meeting, which was also raided by police who roughed up some of those in attendance.
"There was a young man, a university student ... who was searched by several policemen who then called the college and got them to come and take him away," Fan said.
Officially an atheist country, China has an army of officials whose job is to watch over faith-based activities, which have spread rapidly in the wake of massive social change and economic uncertainty since economic reforms began 30 years ago.
Party officials are put in charge of Catholics, Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, and Protestants. Judaism isn't recognized, and worship in unapproved temples, churches, or mosques is against the law.
China's rights lawyers are frequently subjected to harassment and detention when they are involved in politically sensitive cases, as well as harassment in the form of prosecution for economic offenses and revocation of their licenses.
Reported in Mandarin by Qiao Long. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.