Five human rights lawyers from mainland China were intercepted as they tried to make their ways to over Hong Kong over the weekend.

The lawyers, who left from Beijing, Shenzhen and Hubei province, were all told that Beijing’s Municipal Public Security had barred them from leaving the country on the grounds that they “threatened national security.”

Chen Jiangang and Li Guobei were stopped at Beijing Capital International Airport on Sunday as they attempted to board flights to Hong Kong.

Beijing airport blacklist. Photo: Caitriana Nicholson via Flickr.

Customs officials at the airport were not aware of the reason they were barred from travelling, the lawyers said, and could not produce any documentation to substantiate the warning. When they tried contacting public security in Beijing, no one there was aware of their case.

On the same day, Huang Simin was stopped at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport and Liu Zhengqing was forbidden from crossing the border at Futian, Shenzhen. At 5pm on Saturday, Ge Yongxi was also stopped at the Futian border crossing, where customs officers similarly informed him of the Beijing PSB notice, recording the entirety of their exchange.

When Ge asked the officials for a copy of the notification, they said they did not have one. Ge questioned whether this was procedurally appropriate but officers said that were “only responsible for notifying [him] and had no responsibility for anything else.”

A poster calling for the release of the arrested lawyers. Photo: China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group via Facebook.

Neither customs nor public security officials have been able to explain to the lawyers or media why the travel ban has been imposed. Chen and Li have both said that they will lodge applications with relevant government departments to provide information on the blacklist.

Hundreds of human rights lawyers and activists across the country were targeted in an unprecedented crackdown in July this year. Months later, over a dozen lawyers are still unable to leave the country.

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick is an award-winning journalist and scholar from Hong Kong who has reported on the city’s politics, protests, and policing for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, TIME, The Guardian, The Independent, and others