August 24, 2007 / 5:07 AM / 11 years ago

China stops activist's wife leaving country

BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Friday prevented the wife of a blind, jailed activist from going to the Philippines to collect a human rights award on his behalf after they revoked her passport.

Yuan Weijung (C), the wife of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, who is serving a four-year prison term after exposing forced abortions and sterilisation in northern China in 2005, is checked by uniformed and plainclothes policemen as she leaves her home followed by in Beijing, August 24, 2007. China on Friday prevented her from going to the Philippines to collect a human rights award on behalf of her husband after they revoked her passport. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause

Police detained her at the airport, a friend told Reuters.

The Manila-based Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation named Chen Guangcheng as one of seven winners this year, citing his “irrepressible passion for justice in leading ordinary Chinese citizens to assert their legitimate rights under the law”.

Chen was jailed for four years and three months last year for disrupting traffic and damaging property, charges his wife and critics say were concocted by officials angry at his exposure of forced late-term abortions in his hometown in Shandong province.

“They said that her passport was not valid,” said Yuan Weijing’s friend and fellow activist Zeng Jinyan. “But that’s not the case. She was able to check in with no problem.

“She’s still inside. We’re outside waiting for her. I think they’ll keep her for a hour or so. But there is no reason to detain her,” Zeng told Reuters by phone.

Yuan’s telephone was turned off.

Police earlier accosted and briefly detained a small group of foreign reporters who had gone to where Yuan was staying in Beijing, the house of another activist, Hu Jia and his wife Zeng.

Officers tried to seize film and stopped Hu from driving Yuan to the airport.

Yuan told Reuters before going to the airport that the foreign affairs office in Linyi, near where she lives, had called her late on Thursday night to tell her the passport had been revoked.

“But my passport very obviously is valid until March 2008. Moreover, I already have my visa,” she said. “There is no reason to revoke it ... My lawyer told me the foreign affairs department is not qualified to do this.”

Yuan said the Shandong government did not want her leaving the country to tell foreigners about abuses that her husband was trying to combat.

“They have done illegal things,” she said. “They don’t want it to be spoken about.

“I actually really admire the Shandong government for making so much effort that they can mobilise the Beijing public security bureau,” Yuan added sarcastically.

Chinese activists have said Chen’s heavy sentence shows officials are clamping down on “rights defenders”, a network of lawyers and activists seeking to expand freedoms through litigation and Internet-driven campaigns.

Yuan Weijung, the wife of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, who is serving a four-year prison term after exposing forced abortions and sterilisation in northern China in 2005, leaves her home followed by uniformed and plainclothes policemen in Beijing, August 24, 2007. China on Friday prevented her from going to the Philippines to collect a human rights award on behalf of her husband after they revoked her passport. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause

A British diplomat who had gone to see if Yuan would be allowed to leave said she was concerned about harassment.

“This is a case we’ve raised at the highest levels with the Chinese,” Lucy Hughes told Reuters. “We are concerned both for the safety of human rights defenders and for the ability of journalists to report freely.”

Foreign journalists were supposed to have been given far greater freedom to report since the start of the year, ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But in practice the police still detain reporters when they see fit.

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