Authorities Prevent Some Human Rights Defenders From Traveling

October 27, 2010

Chinese authorities have appeared increasingly to restrict rights defenders' ability to leave China in recent months. Since April, authorities detained several rights defenders at airports in China, before they could board international flights. Authorities cited China's Law on the Control of the Exit and Entry of Citizens as justification for preventing rights defenders from traveling, or, in some cases, provided no official explanation.

Chinese authorities appear to be applying greater restrictions on rights defenders and advocates' ability to leave China. Authorities appear increasingly to rely on immigration controls to target them at the border.

  • On August 3, Beijing Public Security Bureau detained writer Mo Zhixu in Fujian province, as he attempted to board a plane to Japan for vacation, according to reports on August 5 and August 3 from Radio Free Asia. Authorities reportedly cited concerns for state security as the reason for Mo's detention. Mo reportedly speculated that his detention was likely related to his support of Charter 08, a treatise advocating political reform and human rights.
  • Several other human rights defenders were prevented from leaving China in recent months. In May, authorities detained rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong at the Beijing Capital International Airport while he attempted to board a flight to the United States, according to the August 5 report by Radio Free Asia. Customs officials reportedly invoked state security as grounds for preventing Jiang from traveling abroad.
  • In July, authorities prevented Guo Yushan, director of the non-government Transition Institute, from attending a conference organized by the European Union in Poland, and a second, unrelated conference in Brussels, according to the August 5 report by Radio Free Asia. Authorities reportedly did not provide any explanation for preventing Guo's travel.
  • On July 4, authorities in Beijing prevented human rights lawyer Zhang Kai from attending a church-organized training conference in the United States, according to China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group and ChinaAid. Zhang's colleagues were allowed to leave. During the past year, Zhang Kai has defended members of house churches in several cases that authorities have regarded as politically sensitive. Authorities at the Beijing International Airport reportedly cited state security, and orders from a higher government entity as reasons Zhang was not allowed to travel.
  • On April 18, authorities at the Beijing Capital International Airport reportedly prevented Sodmongol, a Mongol rights advocate, from attending the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York City, according to an April 23 article from the Southern Mongolia Human Rights Information Center. Authorities apparently did not provide an explanation for Sodmongol's arrest. As of July 15, Sodmongol had been held in detention in Chaoyang city, Liaoning province according to an Amnesty International press release. For more information on Sodmongol, see CECC analysis, Mongol Activist Remains in Custody Following April Detention at Airport.

In instances where explanations were given (Mo, Jiang, and Zhang), authorities most frequently cited Article 8 (5) of China's Law on the Control of the Exit and Entry of Citizens (Chinese, English) as justification for preventing rights defenders from traveling. The section prohibits the departure from China of "... persons whose exit from the country ... in the opinion of the competent department of the State Council, [would] be harmful to state security or cause a major loss to national interests." According to the August 3 and 5 reports from Radio Free Asia, human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong expressed concern about the apparent trend of preventing Chinese citizens who are "active in the public domain" from traveling abroad in recently months. According to one Chinese scholar, anecdotal evidence appears to suggest a broader application of the "state security" provision to rights defenders and citizens. He further observed that Article 8 (5) deprives citizens of fundamental rights due to its lack of accountability and remedial provisions.

These recent developments suggest that Chinese authorities are placing significant burdens on freedom of movement, which is a human right guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. For more information on restrictions on freedom of movement, see Section II―Freedom of Residence in the CECC 2010 Annual Report.