HONG KONG—Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang have prevented a journalist-turned-blogger from leaving the mainland to attend a writers’ conference in Hong Kong.
Hangzhou-based journalist and Web author Zan Aizong tried to travel to Hong Kong to attend the conference planned for Saturday by the writers’ society International Chinese PEN.
While border guards let him pass through immigration controls, Zan was prevented from getting on the plane at the departure gate by armed police.
They told me they had received a phone call to say that I shouldn’t be allowed to leave."
“Zan Aizong’s freedom was curtailed and he was prevented from leaving China,” International Chinese PEN spokeswoman Mak Yin-ting said.
Zan, a former journalist with the China Ocean News, said he was confused by officials’ behavior.
“To begin with, it seemed they would let me out of the country. I had already got as far as the boarding gate, when they took me away. I had already passed through immigration. I had already left [mainland China],” he said.
“But they took me away from the gate and made me go back through immigration.” Permit for Hong Kong
Hong Kong, a British colony until its reversion Chinese rule in 1997, still maintains internal immigration controls between its territory and neighboring mainland China.
Zan said police gave no explanation for the decision.
“They told me they had received a phone call to say that I shouldn’t be allowed to leave,” he said.
“The call came through before they started their working day, so that makes me suspicious. I don’t know who the call was from.”
Zan said he had consulted a lawyer and would seek to defend his rights through the legal system.
“I don’t know what the reason was. First they let me through. Then they didn’t let me through. It was like a game of blind man’s buff.”
After Zan went back through immigration, his two-way pass allowing him into Hong Kong was stamped with the word “Canceled.”
Guangdong-based lawyer Tang Jingling said Zan was likely being prevented from going to Hong Kong for political reasons.
He said the armed police actions were in violation of Zan’s personal freedom.
Personal freedom ‘infringed’
“Citizens have the right to migrate—this is part of their right of freedom of movement. In reality, though Hong Kong is a part of China, you still have to get a two-way permit to enter Hong Kong. It is very clear that Zan had the right to go there,” Tang said.
“I think that the relevant departments were probably acting out of political considerations, but they definitely infringed Zan Aizong’s personal freedom.”
In Hong Kong, Mak said she was “disappointed” that Zan hadn’t been allowed to attend, adding that the purpose of the conference was to enable communication between writers about their work, and had no political content.
Zan was uninvolved in politics himself, she added.
“This year is regarded as a sensitive year in China, and so perhaps the situation is a bit worse, and controls are a bit tighter,” Mak said.
Previous attempts blocked
The incident was the third time that Zan has been refused permission to leave the country.
The first was in February 2007 and the second was in September 2008. He made one successful trip to Hong Kong in May 2008.
Tang said Zan could make an administrative appeal by letter, but that the incident would be hard to prove.
“He could lodge an administrative appeal or he could send a complaint letter. But it would be very hard to gather evidence in such a case, especially about the part where he was taken back after going through immigration.”
Zan wrote later on his blog:
“So, I finally got out of the country. But I only got as far as the departure gate. What I don’t understand is whether the piece of territory between the immigration desk and the departure gate is inside or outside the country?”
Original reporting in Mandarin by Yan Xiu and in Cantonese by Cheung Lik. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.