HONG KONG — The teenage son of a prominent human rights lawyer in China was blocked from leaving the country Monday after police told him he posed a potential threat to national security while abroad, his father said.
The travel ban against Bao Zhuoxuan, 18, was seen by his family and human rights groups as retaliation against his mother, Wang Yu. Wang was a commercial lawyer who became involved in politically delicate cases and was the first person targeted two years ago in a widespread crackdown on human rights lawyers in China.
Bao had been planning to travel in Japan for two weeks to celebrate having successfully taken a test to study abroad, according to his father, Bao Longjun. The family had recently been allowed to return to Beijing after spending two years under strict surveillance in the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia.
Authorities had returned the teenager’s passport, and he was able to obtain a visa to go to Japan. But on Monday he was stopped and held while passing through immigration at the Tianjin airport. The corners of his passport were also cut, rendering it invalid.
“They said there was a possibility my son could harm state security,” the older Bao said. “He’s 18. How could he harm national security?”
Phone calls to the Ministry of Public Security bureau in Inner Mongolia responsible for the teenager’s case rang unanswered Tuesday afternoon.
In 2015, Bao and his son were stopped at the Beijing airport and prevented from flying to Australia, where the son planned to attend high school. That same night, authorities broke down the door to the family’s apartment and detained Wang. She detailed that experience for a chapter in a new book, “The People’s Republic of the Disappeared: Stories From Inside China’s System for Enforced Disappearances.”
Later that year uniformed officers snatched the son from a guesthouse in Myanmar, where he had fled in an effort to eventually make his way to the United States.
Wang and her husband were formally arrested in 2016. She was accused of subversion of state power, a charge that carries a possible life sentence, and Bao, a trainee lawyer, was accused of a lesser charge of inciting subversion of state power.
Last year, Wang and her husband were released after she gave a televised confession, disavowing an international award she had won and saying she had been put up to pursue human rights cases by overseas groups. Friends said they did not believe the confession was genuine.
Blocking the couple’s son from traveling shows the pressure they remain under even after their release, said Patrick Poon, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Amnesty International.
“It’s incomprehensible and ridiculous how a teenager preparing to study overseas would be accused of possibly ‘endangering national security,’” he wrote by e-mail. “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 Oct.”
Zhou Fengsuo, a 1989 Tiananmen protest organizer who now lives in the United States, said he believed the authorities were still concerned about what Wang would say if she could speak freely.
“This is a provocation from the government,” he said. “Basically, it is a sign they are still paranoid about what happened to him and his parents. They are afraid of the outside world knowing the truth.”
Last weekend, another human rights lawyer, Tang Jitian, was prevented from leaving mainland China to travel to Hong Kong for medical treatment, the Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK reported. Tang lost his law license after defending an adherent of Falun Gong, the banned spiritual movement, and was detained in 2011 over fears of pro-democracy protests.
He contracted tuberculosis while he was abused in detention in 2014, according to a submission to the United Nations special rapporteur on torture. Tang told RTHK on Saturday that he was safe, but he did not say whether he was being detained. He could not be reached by telephone Tuesday.