Friday, August 24, 2007

China Blocks Activist's Wife at Airport

They were worried she'd "Cause harm to the country". They certainly don't need any help with that.

China Blocks Activist's Wife at Airport

Chinese authorities on Friday barred the wife of an imprisoned human rights activist from leaving the country to accept a humanitarian award on his behalf, a friend said. Yuan Weijing's passport and telephone were confiscated as she attempted to pass through security at Beijing airport, said Hu Jia, an AIDS advocate who himself has been under house arrest for months.

Yuan had planned to fly to the Philippines to accept a Magsaysay Award, Asia's version of the Nobel Prize, for her husband, Chen Guangcheng, a self-trained lawyer who helped farmers with grievances file court cases.

Chen, who is blind, was sentenced to four years, three months in prison in 2006 after he documented cases of forced abortions and other abuses by local family planning officials in his native province of Shandong in eastern China.

Barring Yuan from leaving shows the extent to which China's authoritarian communist rulers will go to prevent government critics from drawing attention at international forums to human rights abuses within the country.

In an interview Thursday, Yuan said: "I haven't done anything wrong, so I'll give it a try, and if they stop me then it's not my problem."

Yuan said authorities in Shandong had attempted to prevent her from coming to Beijing and were blocking her from leaving Hu Jia's apartment where she had been staying. About 30 policemen blocked her on Friday, but she was eventually able to leave after about 45 minutes, possibly due to the presence of foreign reporters, Hu said.

Yuan called Hu to let him know her passport had been confiscated but the call was quickly cut off. Attempts to reach her again failed. It was not immediately clear whether she had been detained.

Hu said Philippines Airlines service personnel told his wife that Yuan's baggage had been taken off the plane by police - a likely sign that she would be forcibly returned to Shandong.

"The biggest loser here is not Yuan Weijing and not the Magsaysay Foundation but the Chinese government," said Hu. "This just really shows how bad the human rights situation is here."

China also blocked two previous winners of Magsaysay prizes from collecting their awards, including army doctor Jiang Yanyong, who embarrassed the government by revealing the true scale of the 2003 SARS outbreak.

Also blocked was crusading AIDS activist Gao Yaojie, who has been repeatedly harassed by provincial officials seeking to squelch news about the epidemic and government malfeasance that aided the disease's spread.

Hu said Yuan told him authorities cited a statute blocking people who may cause harm to the nation from leaving the country when they took away her passport.