Chinese authorities have barred the teenage son of civil rights lawyer Wang Yu from leaving the country for state security reasons, according to posts made by his father on social media.

Wang Yu, whose arrest on July 9, 2015 marked the beginning of the so-called 709 crackdown on rights activists, was detained for a year for “subversion of state power.” She previously represented Uighur academic Ilham Tohti, who was jailed for life on separatist charges, feminist activist Li Tingting and activist Cao Shunli, whose death in detention in 2014 prompted an international outcry.

Her husband, Bao Longjun, who worked with her, was charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” a slightly lighter charge which is also commonly used against political dissidents. They were granted bail in August 2016, but the family has been under “tight surveillance akin to house arrest” since then, according to their lawyers.

Wang Yu. File photo: China Change.

Bao Longjun posted on Facebook on Monday that their son Bao Zhuoxuan – better known by his nickname Bao Mengmeng – was stopped by customs officials in Tianjin as he was preparing to board a flight to Tokyo on Monday afternoon.

Bao described the process in another message sent via WhatsApp to his friends.

According to the message, his son was stopped at customs and held for over an hour. He was eventually told that he was not permitted to leave “because leaving the country could potentially endanger state security.”

Officials then claimed that his passport was invalid and cut two corners off of it.

“Right in front of me, they forcibly cut the corners of the passport,” Bao quoted his son as saying. “I hurriedly said, let’s talk about this, don’t cut my passport, but they ignored me.”

The officials also said that the orders came from the domestic security department in Inner Mongolia and had nothing to do with them. Afterwards, they returned the passport and allowed Bao Zhuoxuan to leave.

Bao’s passport. Photo: Facebook/Bao Longjun.

Bao added that the family plans to sue over the incident. He said that his son had completed his IELTS standardised English-language tests and was awaiting an acceptance letter from The University of Melbourne in Australia.

“The child was full of expectations and hope – from hope to disappointment, broken again and again – what crime did he commit to be persecuted again and again by this government?”

At the beginning of the crackdown, Bao Mengmeng and his father were detained by police on their way to Australian, where the teenager was planning to study. Bao Mengmeng was released after two days, but his passport was revoked. In October 2015, he was taken from Myanmar and sent back to China while trying to leave the country to study overseas. He was subsequently held under house arrest at his grandparents’ home in Inner Mongolia.

Bao Mengmeng, Wang Yu. Photos: Twitter, file photo.

Bao Longjun did not respond to an interview request from HKFP sent via Facebook. Attempts by US-backed Radio Free Asia to speak to the couple by phone were unsuccessful.

Patrick Poon, China researcher for Amnesty International, told HKFP that, even though the couple had stayed quiet since they were granted bail, the authorities were still targeting their son.

“It once again shows how much pressure human rights lawyers and activists in China have to face,” he said.

“It’s incomprehensible and ridiculous how a teenager preparing to study overseas would be accused of possibly ‘endangering national security.’ It’s obvious that it’s a retaliation against his parents’ human rights work, in particular for showing their support to Wang Yu’s lawyer Li Yuhan, who has been detained since 9 October.”

Wang had signed an open letter calling for Li’s release, along with 84 other lawyers and citizens, at the beginning of November.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.