'Without remedy, without rights': China blocks the departure of foreigners

SHANGHAI: Mandy Luo was supposed to take a plane back to Seattle with her mother and finish high school like everyone else.

But at the Shanghai airport, a security officer told Luo's mother that he could not leave China. Neither did his stepfather, a US citizen named Daniel Hsu.

The teenager froze, his mind blank and his legs numb.

On the flight home alone, she spent 10 hours vomiting. Mom, I kept thinking, why aren't you here? ''

Luo was orphaned in the Seattle suburbs at the age of 16 due to Chinese laws that give authorities wide discretion to prevent Chinese citizens and foreigners from leaving the country.

Critics say the practice reeks of hostage-taking and collective punishment, in violation of international law. They also warn that it exposes China's will to exert influence, not only on Chinese citizens in China, but also against permanent residents and citizens of other countries.

In China, however, exit bans have been held as a way to convince corrupt officials to return to the homeland for prosecution, part of the president. Xi Jinping sweeping campaign to purify the ruling communist party and shore up their moral authority.

The Associated Press examined 10 cases involving American, Canadian, Australian and Chinese citizens, speaking to people subject to exit bans, their relatives, lawyers and government officials pressing on their behalf, as well as reviewing legal documents and government correspondence. Most spoke on condition of anonymity for fear that other people in danger might not leave China.

The cases fit a general pattern: People did not realize that they could not leave China until they were blocked at the airport. They received no formal notification of why they were detained in China. There was no limit on the duration of exit bans or a clear mechanism to resolve or dispute them. People were detained even if they themselves had not been accused of wrongdoing.

This is shocking and unacceptable behavior by the Chinese government and a clear violation of international law, said James P. McGovern, chairman of the bipartisan Congressional and Executive Commission on China.

Children, a pregnant woman and a pastor, all with foreign passports, have been banned from leaving, according to people with direct knowledge of the cases.

In the past, they targeted dissidents within China, an academic said, and he was blocked from leaving China in 2017 and questioned. They also begin to use this measure to silence the Chinese abroad. It is an expansion of Chinese political power.

The United States, Canada and Australia have issued travel warnings, warning that foreign citizens may be blocked from leaving China for disputes in which they are not directly involved. The number of foreign nationals subject to exit bans is difficult to track because China does not report cases to consular authorities, but diplomats from three countries told AP that, anecdotally, the number of cases has been increasing.

Mandy Luo's parents have not been convicted of any crime in China, but her stepfather, Hsu, was held for six months in solitary confinement under intense surveillance. He is still stuck in Shanghai. Her mother was expelled for over two and a half years and was finally allowed to return to Seattle on April 10. It is not clear why.

The family says the Anhui provincial authorities took them hostage to pressure Hsu's father to return from the United States and face justice in China for allegedly embezzlement of 447,874 yuan (worth $ 63,000 today) ago. over 20 years, a charge he says is false and was motivated by political Revenge.

Anhui authorities and the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.

US diplomats frequently raise the issue of exit bans and the need for transparency with the Chinese government, a State Department spokesman said. The Department has raised Mr. Hsu's case at the highest levels and will continue to do so until he is allowed to return home to the US. USA ''

Within China, Xi's anti-corruption campaign has put enormous pressure on local officials to repatriate those suspected of corruption. Forced by the lack of police cooperation with the United States, Canada and Australia, the top destinations for China's most wanted, the Chinese authorities developed their own persuasion tools.

A case involving a Canadian permanent resident named Chu Shilin, accused of stealing $ 6 million, appeared in a documentary on China Central Television last year about the fugitives from China's Red Notice. Prosecutors, in notes on the Chu case published online, said they organized a special force to vigorously squeeze out his survival and placed exit bans on his son, daughter-in-law and ex-wife as part of a campaign to control his relatives and shake your emotional support.

Chu relented. On January 30, 2016, his Air Canada flight landed in Beijing and was inexpressively escorted from the plane by police in white gloves. My son said that if you are not going back, I will come back, Chu told CCTV. I said I feel sorry for your mother. I can't let others (bear) this for me. '' His left eye twitched.

The misuse of exit bans is concerning, '' said a spokesman for the Canadian Foreign Minister. Promoting and protecting human rights is an integral part of Canada's foreign policy.

Many countries can prohibit the departure of people accused of crimes or who are necessary as witnesses to legal proceedings. But scholars say the use of travel bans in China exceeds these international standards.

China is harnessing its growing strength in the international community to break the law and not pay a heavy price for it, said Thomas Kellogg, executive director of Georgetown University's Center for Asian Law.

Donald Trump pressured Xi on exit bans at the G-20 summit in Argentina in 2018. Australian consular cables obtained by the AP through a Freedom of Information request show that diplomats repeatedly pointed out concerns to their counterparts. Chinese on the increasing number of exit bans on Australians.

In January, U.S. lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation that would prevent responsible Chinese officials from obtaining U.S. visas and urged President Trump to address the issue with Xi.

There have also been calls for reform from China. The laws governing exit restrictions are `` messy and lack strong protection of citizens' rights, '' Chen Qingan wrote in a 2018 article for the Law Institute of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, a government-funded group of experts, where he works as a researcher.

But little has changed for people trapped in China under laws so loosely worded that they can be used to hold almost anyone indefinitely, with no clear path to resolution.

It is a political problem. It is not a legal problem, said Si Weijiang, a Shanghai lawyer. Generally, I will not accept such cases because there is no legal remedy, he added. Without remedy. Without rights.