A defense attorney for one of the five Chinese feminists detained as they organized an anti-sexual harassment even for International Women's Day has been prevented from leaving the country, he told RFA on Thursday.
Liang Xiaojun, who represented women's rights activist Wu Rongrong after her detention alongside four fellow activists, was turned away as he tried to cross the border to board a plane to study in the United States.
"I, my wife and our child were about to go through immigration, and we were standing at the line, and they looked at my passport, and called somebody over," Liang said after returning from Beijing's International Airport. "That person took us to one side and said he had a few things to ask us."
"They had us wait awhile to one side, and they made a phone call to ask about it," he said.
Liang said he and his family waited there for around 20 minutes.
"The border police told us they had received notification from the Beijing police department that I was to be prevented from leaving the country on the grounds that it would harm national security," Liang said.
Liang said he couldn't imagine what he might have done to "endanger national security."
"He was just following orders," he said. "There was nothing in writing; it was a verbal notification."
However, Liang wrote on social media that he had made "mental preparations" for being stopped.
Liang and the rest of the feminists' defense team had previously called for all remaining charges against the feminist five — Li Tingting, Wu Rongrong, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, and Zheng Churan — who were detained ahead of International Women's Day and later released on "bail."
Liang is the latest in a line of human rights lawyers to be prevented from leaving the country since the ruling Chinese Communist Party began targeting the country's embattled legal profession in a nationwide police operation on July 9-10.
"Following the ... crackdown, at least five lawyers and one child have been restricted from leaving the country on grounds of 'endangering national security,'" the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG) said in a statement on its website.
Liang said the charge of endangering national security is increasingly being used against the profession by police in recent weeks.
"Whether they are detaining lawyers or preventing them from leaving the country, they use the same charge," he said. "The details differ in each case, so some people have restrictions on their freedom, while some are prevented from leaving China.”
But Liang said the move was a misuse of state power.
"This is an abuse of the law, and a violation of citizens' rights," he said.
Others prevented from leaving
Hunan lawyer Cai Ying was prevented from leaving the country on Monday, while Guangdong lawyer Chen Wuquan was prevented from entering Hong Kong on Sunday, CHRLCG said.
On Aug. 11, Shanghai lawyer Zhong Jinhua was also turned back with his wife and two young children at Shanghai's Pudong airport, where they had planned to board a flight to the U.S. and forced to undergo a strip and body search, although no documentation was produced, it said.
Lawyer Si Weijiang was prevented from boarding a flight out of China at Pudong on the same day, also with no written notification.
And lawyer Zhang Qingfang, who defended jailed New Citizens' Movement founder Xu Zhiyong, was prevented from traveling to the U.S. with his child and the child of a friend on Aug. 3.
"Endangering state security" was given as the justification in all cases, the group said.
In recent weeks, police have detained or interrogated at least 269 lawyers, law firm staff, and associated human right activists, CHRLCG said.
More than 20 people remain in detention, 16 of them at undisclosed locations, while many more have been placed under surveillance, police warning or house arrest.
Article 12 of China’s Exit and Entry Administration Law provides for a Chinese citizen to be prohibited from exiting China "because the national security or interest may be compromised," but the criteria for such a decision are not defined.
Last month’s raid on the Fengrui public interest law firm in Beijing, in which rights lawyers Wang Yu, Zhou Shifeng, Huang Liqun, Liu Sixin and Wang Quanzhang have been accused of deliberately fomenting social unrest, was just the beginning of a much wider operation that has left the Chinese legal profession in a state of shock.
The move comes as the government intensifies a clampdown on all forms of civil society, including nongovernmental organizations, in an apparent bid to cleanse it of alleged "foreign influence."
Many who seek to help others defend their legal rights are accused of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," and sometimes the more serious national security offense of "incitement to subvert state power."
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.