China Slaps Exit Ban on Wife, Son of Defected Former Journalist

china-lixin-11172015.jpg Journalist Li Xin, who went into exile to protect his family in China, in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Li Xin

Authorities in the southern province of Guangdong have prevented the wife and son of a former columnist at a top Chinese newspaper from leaving the country to join him after his defection.

Li Xin, rights activist and writer for the cutting-edge Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper, fled to India three months ago after being recruited by China's state security police to spy on his fellow activists.

His wife Shi Sanmei and the couple's infant son were stopped by border officials in the southern city of Shenzhen on Saturday after they tried to cross into neighboring Hong Kong, which has maintained its own internal immigration border since its 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

"I took my Hong Kong entry pass up to the window, and they looked at my documents, and then they called me into a room," Shi told RFA after trying to cross the border at the Futian border crossing in Shenzhen.

"Then they took mine and my child's documents off for checking. I asked the guy who was watching us for some water, but he said there wasn't any."

"They left me there a very long time ... then they finally told me that under the Guangdong provincial entry and exit bureau regulations, the state security police had denied me permission to leave the country," she said.

"By this time, there were around ... 15 people crowding around me, and someone was pointing a video camera at me, and filming," Shi added. "I said why do you have to film me, just because I have been refused permission to cross the border?"

Upsetting and intrusive

Shi, who has some facial disfigurement, said she found the filming upsetting and intrusive.

"I'm not a criminal. On what basis were they filming me?" she said.

According to Li, this is the second time Shi and the couple's son have been denied permission to leave China.

"The first time, my wife tried to cross the border at Wankou, in Shenzhen, because she wants to join me in India," Li said. "That time, she presented her passport, and was prevented from leaving."

"I told her to try again using a Hong Kong entry permit ... but she was stopped again," he said.

Shi said border officials had refused to provide her with any written confirmation of the order from the state security police.

"I told them they should tell me the name of the state security police officer who is preventing me from crossing the border," Shi said.

"They told me they couldn't tell me that ... I asked them why I was a matter for 'stability maintenance' when I haven't killed anybody or set fire to anything," she said.

Li said he believes the order is a form of retaliation, after he leaked information about the inner workings of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's "stability maintenance" system.

"There is nothing anywhere in Chinese law to say that they can stop people from leaving the country," he said.

"I think it has to do with my revealing the dark side of the Chinese Communist Party to people outside China."

After arriving in India, Li made public confidential documents from his time at the newspaper, revealing the inner workings of the party's propaganda machine.

Li, formerly an active campaigner for democratic reform and human rights, said he was approached and pressured into acting as an informant for state security police after he posted comments online in support of blind Shandong rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who has since gone to study in the United States.

"By 2013, I was working at the Southern Metropolis Daily [in Shenzhen] ... and they called me to a meeting and threatened me, and said they wanted me to work for them," Li told RFA in an interview recorded at the time of his defection in New Delhi last month.

Pressed to be informant

He said the police had threatened him with a report he wrote for the Taiwan government on the political situation in China, while studying at India's Jawaharlal Nehru University as a graduate student of international relations.

"They told me that some scholar wanted help writing an analysis, but I think that they were actually the Taiwan intelligence services," Li said. "Later, the state security police in China found out about it."

"After that, they would call me up from time to time wanting to know about the democracy movement, whether there was anything new happening, and I basically tried to stall for time," he said.

Matters came to a head in June 2013, when Li was held in a guesthouse in his hometown for a week, with no means of contacting friends or family.

"They wouldn't show me any documents related to any legal process, and eventually I paid them 5,000 yuan in so-called bail," Li said. "They used the [Taiwan report] as a way to threaten me with charges of damaging state security, and told me I should co-operate with the work of the government."

"They were extremely interested in strikes, civil rights protests, street protests, lawyers and academics, as well as the democracy movement in Hong Kong and overseas NGOs," he said.

"They wanted to use me to gain insight into the thinking and motivation of these people, and work out what they were trying to do, and they wanted long-term reports back from me, on my own initiative, and then they wouldn't pursue the charges," Li said.

Li wanted to flee the country, but his passport and other documents were in the hands of the state security police, and the birth of his child at the end of 2013 was another factor keeping him in China.

Li said he had written a report for the police on the inner workings of one of the country's top financial newspapers, the 21st Century Business Herald. "There was nothing I could do," he said. "I wrote them something based on what I could find on the Internet."

Last August, several of its journalists were indicted on charges including "extortion," "blackmail," and "forced" transactions.

By the time the news broke, Li had been posted to work for the Southern Metropolis Daily in Shenzhen, close to the internal immigration border with Hong Kong.

"By this time, the state security police wanted me to focus on the democracy movement, the labor movement in Guangdong, and the Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong, as well as how people in Hong Kong were training people from the mainland in how to stand up for their rights," Li said.

"They kept encouraging me to go to Hong Kong a lot."

Earlier this year, Li finally managed to escape via Hong Kong, arriving in India after a month of traveling, leaving his wife, child and parents back home in China.

He has been denied political asylum in India, and is now seeking a visa to travel to the United States, before applying there, he told RFA.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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