Travel Bans For Activists

People previously allowed free movement are now having problems leaving China.

2010-08-05
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Airport-Guard-305.gif A Chinese paramilitary police officer stands guard at Beijing International Airport, Jan. 19, 2010.
AFP

HONG KONG—Chinese lawyers, academics, and rights activists say that authorities are increasingly targeting them through immigration controls, with a growing number of people prevented from leaving the country in recent months to attend overseas events.

Earlier this week, authorities in the southeastern province of Fujian prevented Beijing-based writer Mo Zhixu from leaving the country, on grounds that he posed a "danger to state security."

"They told me very clearly that it might harm national security if I were to leave the country," Mo said from his Beijing home after being refused permission to board a flight for Hokkaido in Japan at an airport in the southeastern city of Xiamen.

"I had an inkling that something like this might happen because of [my involvement in] Charter '08," said Mo, referring to his signing of a document in December 2008 which called for sweeping political reforms in China.

Mo said he had been a vocal supporter of jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, who helped to draft the Charter. Liu is currently serving an 11-year jail term for subversion.

Mo said he also took part in a discussion forum last year on the June 4, 1989 military crackdown on the student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

"They want to put on the pressure now," Mo said, noting that other Charter signatories and fellow activists had received similar treatment. "I thought that it might happen to me, as well."

"But I also thought that mostly I write commentaries, and I haven't actually done very much ... but in end they didn't let me go," he said.

Security concerns cited

Mo said he was prevented from leaving China under Section 1, Clause 8, of the Entry and Exit Management Law of the People's Republic of China, which states that a person whom the Chinese government believes to be threat to national security may be prevented from leaving the country.

However, the authorities did not confiscate his passport, Mo said.

Guo Yushan, director of the nongovernment Transition Institute, said he had been prevented from leaving China in July to attend a conference of nongovernment organizations (NGOs) run by the European Union.

"I have been prevented from leaving for two events," Guo said. "One was on my way to Poland, where I would have been the only Chinese person."

"At the other one, in Brussels, I knew that quite a few of us were going. [AIDS activist] Wan Yanhai went to that one."

Guo, whose group researches free-market economics, said officials gave no reason for the refusal to let him leave, and didn't retain his passport, either.

And in May, Beijing-based rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong was refused permission to leave China as he attempted to go through immigration controls at Beijing's international airport, on his way to attend an event in the United States.

A growing trend?

Jiang was detained in a small room and held while officials checked with their superiors, and then told him he wouldn't be allowed to leave, citing the same clause of China's immigration law that was applied in the case of Mo Zhixu.

"I'm not sure exactly about the timing, but we have discovered that a large group of people who had never run into problems before were being told they couldn't leave," Jiang said.

"[These are] all people who are fairly active in the public domain, and these measures are being used against them."

Fan Yafeng, former law professor at the prestigious China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said he sees the measures as part of a growing trend in national security enforcement.

He said ordinary citizens, rights activists, lawyers, and academics had been subjected to such controls recently, and that there is no way to appeal against the decisions, nor to pursue complaints against the officials responsible.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Hai Nan and in Mandarin by Ding Xiao. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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