Los Angeles Times
Oct. 16, 2015 4:00 am
Chinese authorities refused to issue a passport to the son of a prominent human rights lawyer on Thursday, underscoring the ruling Communist Party’s tendency to punish the relatives of those it deems harmful to the state.
The denial came days after police detained another human rights lawyer’s 16-year-old son as he attempted to flee the country through Myanmar.
Liu Xiaoyuan, a partner at the Beijing-based Fengrui law firm, said that his son Liu Yuyang, a 21-year-old university student in the southeastern Chinese city of Nanchang, was denied a passport on Thursday afternoon, dashing his plans to attend graduate school in the U.S.
Local authorities told Yuyang that higher-level authorities in Beijing had rejected his application, and asked whether he was a member of any “subversive foreign organizations.”
|Activists with the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic
Democratic Movements of China and China Human Rights
Lawyers Concern Group demand the release of retained
Chinese human rights activists and lawyers during a protest
outside the China Liaison Office in Hong Kong on Oct. 9, 2015.
(Jerome Favre/European Pressphoto Agency)
“My son had nothing to do with Fengrui,” said Liu, who has defended prominent government critics such as artist Ai Weiwei and the ethnic Uighur academic Ilham Tohti. “I can’t understand why this would happen to my family. This is a Cultural Revolution-style way of doing things.”
In July, China’s President Xi Jinping oversaw the country’s most severe crackdown on human rights lawyers in recent history; authorities detained or interrogated more than 220 people nationwide, according to Amnesty International. (Liu was detained for three days during the crackdown, then released without charge).
On Oct. 9, authorities detained Bao Zhuoxuan, the 16-year-old son of detained human rights lawyer Wang Yu and activist Bao Longjun, as he attempted to flee China through Mong La, a barely regulated casino town in northern Myanmar. Two adults accompanying Bao in Mong La were also detained; their identities and current whereabouts remain unknown.
Bao planned to travel to the U.S. through Thailand, said Zhou Fengsuo, a San Francisco-based human rights campaigner who planned to aid in the escape. Zhou said that police took Bao to Ulanhot, a small city in northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, where he is staying with his grandparents under tight surveillance.
Both of Bao’s parents have been in detention since July, though neither has been formally accused of a crime.
Wang, also an employee of Fengrui, has represented several politically sensitive clients, including one of five Chinese feminists who were jailed for planning a protest this spring.
Authorities confiscated Bao’s passport — and detained him and his father — in July at Beijing’s international airport as they attempted to leave China for Australia. Since then, Bao has been kept under constant surveillance, said Bo Liang, a family friend living in San Francisco who planned to assume custody over Bao once he arrived in the U.S.
“As a mother, I can’t imagine what he had been through,” Liang said. “I can’t imagine. So I’m in deep pain.”
Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor, said that U.S. officials raised the issue of Bao’s treatment at a meeting this week with Chinese officials.
The U.S. has “welcomed an increasing emphasis on the rule of law in the Chinese government’s discourse,” Malinowski told reporters on Friday.
“But when it comes to … politically sensitive issues and politically sensitive cases, legality appears to be a secondary consideration,” he added. “The question that we think China has to answer is whether the rule of law in their conception remains a tool for disciplining society, or whether they intend for it to become a check on the power of the state. And so far, particularly with respect to politically sensitive issues and cases, it appears to be the former.”
On Tuesday, the state-run Global Times newspaper alleged, in a sternly worded editorial, that “foreign anti-China forces” lured Bao out of the country.
“It is hard to understand why foreign forces would take the risk of bringing a kid to northern Myanmar,” it said. “We don’t have details, but logically, we can assume the kid was ‘lured’ to northern Myanmar as a political play by other adults. This raises questions about the legality of bringing a kid to an unstable place, as well as whether the kid went voluntarily, and how much he knew about the situation.”
In another editorial on Thursday, the newspaper said that Western media “hyped” the story to “attract the attention of many people who do not know the truth, which will tarnish China’s image.”
Liang, the family friend, did not buy the newspaper’s narrative.
“Bear in mind, he’s already 16 — how could he be cheated so easily?” she said. “I don’t think it’s easy to convince a normal, 16-year-old boy to decide to leave. I think he just had the most miserable life in the world.”