Chinese authorities in the northern region of Inner Mongolia are holding the 16-year-old son of two detained rights lawyers under house arrest, as police target fellow lawyers who tried to help him escape via Myanmar.
Bao Zhuoxuan, also known as Bao Mengmeng, was detained on Oct. 6 in Myanmar after trying to escape to the United States amid a nationwide police operation targeting human rights lawyers, during which his passport was confiscated.
He is now under 24-hour police surveillance at his grandparents' house in Inner Mongolia and is not allowed contact with the outside world, Liang Bo, a San Francisco-based family friend, told the Associated Press.
Bao, who is the son of detained Chinese rights lawyers Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, was detained in Mongla, northern Myanmar, in a murky cross-border operation after he was denied permission to leave the country legally.
Wang's colleague and supporter Yu Wensheng said he is "very worried" about Bao.
"We are extremely worried about him, now and when he was detained, because he is basically just a kid, and both his parents have been detained," Yu told RFA on Monday.
"We are calling on the international community to bring his case up with the Chinese authorities," said Yu, who issued a statement which had gained some 200 signatures by Monday evening local time.
"We think this is terrible and wrong, because Bao Mengmeng is a child, who should be afforded some protection," the mother of activist Yeung Hung, who recently gained political asylum in Canada, told RFA after signing the statement.
"Everyone has human rights, whether they are an adult or a child," she said. "The lawyers who have been detained haven't been allowed lawyers to represent them. That's why I'm calling on the international community."
Liang told AP that Bao has already been beaten by police when under house arrest previously, in the northern port city of Tianjin.
Meanwhile, police have searched the homes of rights activists Tang Zhishun, 40, and Xing Qingxian, 49, who had crossed the border with Bao during the National Day holidays last week and who were detained at the same time as him.
The whereabouts of the two men is currently unknown, while their families have fled the country, according to U.S.-based veteran dissident Zhou Fengsuo, who helped to arrange Bao's escape.
Tang's wife and young daughter and Xing's wife all recently arrived in the U.S. after fleeing China amid an ongoing crackdown on rights lawyers, their families and associates, he said on Monday.
"Tang Zhishun's wife and daughter are both in San Francisco," Zhou told RFA. "She was very worried by the situation and called home, where her parents said they couldn't talk right now [implying that police were present] and that the two of them were better off overseas."
Zhou said Xing Qingxian's wife He Juan also arrived at San Francisco airport on Monday, after an equally precipitate departure.
"He Juan made the decision to leave very suddenly, as soon as she found out that the authorities were searching her home," he said.
"She left China via Yunnan."
Zhou said the Chinese government has yet to comment on the detention operation in Myanmar.
"The Chinese government hasn't openly admitted or detailed how it came to detain people in Myanmar," Zhou said.
He Juan said she had initially planned to visit the U.S. as a tourist, but had decided to come early.
"Some people said my husband had run into trouble, or had been detained, so I thought that I couldn't stay behind in China, and that I'd better leave very fast," she said shortly after her arrival.
"I went to Thailand via Laos; that's how I got out," she said.
Prominent rights lawyer Ge Wenxiu said he was recently denied permission to board the Guangzhou-Kowloon express train heading across the internal border with the former British colony of Hong Kong.
"They said they had received a notification from the Beijing police department not to let me leave the country," Ge told RFA.
"The didn't give any details, but it was basically to do with my advocacy work for detained rights lawyer Liu Sixin," he said.
Liu was among a number of lawyers and other employees of Beijing's Fengrui law firm in July, who have since been accused by China's official media of deliberately fomenting social unrest.
Chinese police have detained or questioned at least 288 lawyers and their associates since the night of July 9-10 when Bao's parents were detained, according to the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Lawyers' Concern group.
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.
A number of rights lawyers have also been stopped by border guards from leaving China since.
Bao, who had planned to attend college in Australia, was later told he couldn't leave China because his departure would "harm state security," and police confiscated his passport.
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.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.