A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer said he was blocked on vague national security grounds from leaving the country to participate in a U.S. State Department-sponsored studies program.
Chen Jiangang said he was pulled aside Monday at Beijing airport and told by a customs agent that he was forbidden to leave but he was given no detailed reasons or a written explanation.
He said he was told in an earlier conversation with Beijing police that it was because he had represented another lawyer, Xie Yang, in an earlier case, and that the U.S. government’s acceptance of him as a visiting scholar also made him suspect.
“Who knows what they are up to in getting you to come to the U.S.?” Chen said he was told by the officer.
His remarks and a video of him at the airport were posted to an overseas-based dissident website where past such content has consistently been verified.
In the remarks, Chen said he had planned to fly to the U.S. to study English prior to joining the Humphrey H. Humphrey Fellowship Program. The program “brings young and mid-career professionals from designated countries to the United States for a year of non-degree graduate-level study, leadership development, and professional collaboration with U.S. counterparts,” according to its website.
As Xie’s former lawyer, Chen had helped release his client’s account of torture, for which he was himself detained. Xie was among those scooped up in China’s “7-09 crackdown,” in which authorities on July 9, 2015, detained hundreds of independent lawyers and human rights campaigners in a coordinated sweep that sent a chill through the country’s activist movement.
Xie was released in mid-2017, along with another lawyer, Li Heping, after the two allegedly confessed in court to collaborating with foreign organizations and media to smear and subvert Communist Party rule. Four months prior to his release, Xie’s family released a jailhouse statement from him saying he had been tortured and that if he publicly confessed at any point in the future, it would be because he broke down under enormous government pressure and coercion.
Exit bans like Chen experienced are a frequent form of punishment imposed on party critics. China justifies them by saying the presence of such individuals abroad could compromise national security.
Chen, who has never been charged with a crime, said he has been barred from leaving China since before the 2015 crackdown, and that the ban was extended in 2017 to cover his wife and two children. Chen said he would continue to demand the right to exit the country, calling the order “an abuse of power by the government.”
“It is not only a denial of the basic human rights of a citizen, but also an instance of bias against lawyers and the legal profession. It is the opposite of “governing the country according to law,”” Chen said in his comments posted to chinachange.org, quoting a popular government catchphrase.
Chen could not immediately be reached for additional comment yesterday.
Under president and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, China’s internal security forces have relentlessly pursued a wide range of critics and independent voices, from religious minorities to lawyers, scholars, writers, artists and advocates for workers and women’s rights. AP