Chinese Authorities Block Chinese Citizen Li Jianhong from Returning to China

December 9, 2009

As the Commission noted in its 2009 Annual Report, Chinese authorities continue arbitrarily to deny some Chinese citizens the right to return to their country in contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In mid-October 2009, the Chinese government blocked freelance writer and activist Li Jianhong (a.k.a. Xiao Qiao) from returning to her home in Shanghai after a stint in Sweden as the "Guest Writer of Stockholm" with the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN). Chinese officials in Shenzhen twice refused Li entry into mainland China from Hong Kong. Hong Kong authorities would not permit Li to remain in Hong Kong, and thus she had no choice but to fly back to Sweden, where she is today.

Writer and activist Li Jianhong suspects that Chinese authorities blocked her from re-entering China in mid-October because she had signed Charter 08, a document calling for political reform and greater protection of human rights in China, and because she wrote several articles in connection with the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen protests this year, according to an article published in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) (subscription required) on October 23. The article quoted Li Jianhong as saying that "[i]n July, several police officers told my parents in Shanghai that I would probably not be allowed back to the motherland for my alleged persistent anti-Communist and anti-socialist stance." Li told SCMP that mainland immigration officials explained to her "that they were simply following orders" when they refused to let her enter China.

By refusing Li, a Chinese citizen, entry into China, the Chinese government is acting in contravention of Article 13 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides: "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." In addition, Article 12(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has signed but not yet ratified, states: "No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country."


In 2002, Li Jianhong co-founded an independent Web site, Enlightenment Forum (Qimeng Luntan), which subsequently was shut down in 2004, according to an October 15 statement issued by the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC) (in Chinese, in English via China Free Press). Li then created the Free China Forum (Ziyou Zhongguo Luntan), which the PEN American Center (American PEN) reports also is blocked. According to American PEN, Li "has been subjected to intense police harassment since January 2005 for her critical writings published online and peaceful dissident activities." Li has experienced repeated instances of home confinement, brief detentions outside her home, and interrogations. (Li's account of her arbitrary detention and mistreatment at the hands of Shanghai public security officers (domestic security protection unit) during 2007 is available in an English translation here (via American PEN).) On one occasion in 2007, Shanghai police detained Li, a member of the ICPC, in order to prevent her from attending an ICPC dinner party in Beijing, at which she was to receive the Lin Zhao Memorial Award. When the Shanghai public security authorities finally granted Li permission to leave China for Sweden in 2008, they told her that once she left, she would not be permitted to return, according to an October 15 Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) report. On April 28, 2008, the day of her departure to Sweden, Li was "escorted" to Shanghai's Pudong International Airport by two government vehicles.

Li in Stockholm as Guest Writer; Blocked From Returning Home to China

Li had been in Sweden since April 2008 serving as the Guest Writer of Stockholm city with the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), according to an ICORN news report. Originally a year-long stint, according to a Radio Free Asia article, the Stockholm city government subsequently extended her invitation to remain in the city. Li sought to extend her Chinese passport which was due to expire in late October 2009, but the Chinese Embassy in Sweden rejected her application. Consequently, Li left Sweden ahead of schedule, and traveled to Hong Kong on October 10. Li attempted to enter mainland China twice from Hong Kong, first on October 15 (when some of her books were confiscated), and then again on October 17, and was blocked both times (see CHRD's reports 1 (October 15), 2 (October 17), and ICPC's October 15 statement). Hong Kong authorities would not permit Li to remain in Hong Kong, according to an October 18 Ming Pao article. ICORN's report, posted on its Web site around October 23, stated that Li had returned to Stockholm, and with "the help of Stockholm's City of Refuge coordinator," Li was "permitted to enter the country despite the fact that her passport and her Swedish visa" expired the next day. Professor Perry Link, discussing Li Jianhong's case in his October 21 post on the New York Review of Books Blog, wrote: "Chinese who are critical of their government have long grown accustomed to the regime's use of the national border as a thought-test. You criticize us? All right, if you are inside the country, we might not let you out. If you are outside the country, we might not let you in." Professor Link mentioned that a friend of his, a well-known Chinese dissident who is abroad on a year-long fellowship, decided to rush home to China after hearing what had happened to Li. His friend's view was that "if he was going to be trapped, [he] would rather be trapped inside China than outside."

The Chinese government has, for many years, refused to renew passports of Chinese citizens abroad whom it deems to be "troublemakers," or otherwise barred them from returning to China, thereby forcing them into exile. (See Human Rights in China/Human Rights Watch 1995 report; Dui Hua Foundation's August 2007 discussion of Yang Jianli and the right to return, and a May 13, 2009, New York Times article regarding 1989 student leader Zhou Yongjun's case.) The Chinese government's "use of the national border as a thought-test"―to use Professor Link's formulation―appears to have taken on a new twist: Chinese citizens who currently reside in China, whom the Chinese government views as "troublemakers," but nonetheless permit to travel abroad for fellowships, vacation, or other purposes, travel overseas at their own peril. Another Shanghai-based Chinese citizen, Feng Zhenghu, who has repeatedly been denied entry back into China following a trip to Tokyo this summer wrote in a September 2009 letter (via CHRD) to President Hu Jintao:

That I have been arbitrarily prohibited from returning to China and my home after traveling abroad―this is a threat to all Chinese citizens. My misfortune is something that every Chinese person could experience. In the past, others have experienced this misfortune, now it is my turn; if there is someone the leaders are dissatisfied with, then tomorrow that person will meet the same fate. Moreover, based on my experience of having tried seven times to return to China, I've realized this: the Chinese government's unlawful measures in prohibiting its own country's citizens from returning home not only harm Chinese citizens, but in the end, the Chinese government's own dignity and reputation is also harmed.

For more information see Section II―Freedom of Residence―Liberty of Movement in the CECC 2009 Annual Report.