Rights groups and activists at home and abroad Friday denounced China for barring a prominent Chinese democracy and rights activist from leaving for the United States to care for his cancer-stricken wife.
They called the action “inhuman” and said China is a “fascist” state because the activist, Guo Feixiong, is a free man and the communist government has no right to restrict his travel.
Guo launched a hunger strike Thursday to protest after he was stopped at the Shanghai airport.
“I now begin my hunger strike indefinitely at the Shanghai Pudong International Airport. The customs have officially barred me from leaving the country on suspicion of endangering national security. I urge all the Chinese people and governments around the world to help me,” Guo wrote in a short message to VOA Thursday night, saying that he was being seized by two police officers at customs.
A brutal action
“What a brutal action by the state police and the customs,” he added.
Guo, 54, has since been unreachable, with his whereabouts unknown.
The public security bureau in Shanghai said Friday that it is unable to handle VOA’s inquiry as it is uncertain which unit made the arrest.
Prior to his departure from Guangzhou in south China’s Guangdong province, Guo told VOA he is determined to join his wife, who is in the U.S. and about to begin months of chemotherapy after her cancerous colon tumors were removed during surgery earlier this month.
“I will only stop my hunger strike the minute I’m allowed to board the plane. My life will apparently hang in the hands of the state police if you’re unable to reach me at my cellphone [later]… The [police’s] move is extremely inhuman, and they have to be held legally and morally responsible for my hunger strike,” Guo told VOA a day before his planned flights Thursday.
According to Guo, local police in Guangzhou had warned him on Tuesday about attempting to travel to the U.S. They said that his travel plan was vetoed at the last minute by their higher-ups in the Ministry of Public Security, even though Guo has legally obtained all necessary travel permits from local authorities, including proof of a negative COVID-19 test. The ministry also threatened to send police to intercept him if he made it to the airport in Shanghai on Thursday, he added.
Some kind of agreement
The local police, in addition, demanded that Guo fly to his birthplace in Hubei province and talk with public security officers there to reach “some kind of agreement” – a request Guo said he flatly rejected.
It is widely speculated among Chinese rights lawyers and activists, many of whom are not free to speak, that Chinese authorities want to hold Guo hostage and keep him quiet.
“The police have absolutely no rights to deprive Guo of his freedom to travel. This is outrageous. What harm can dissidents, who travel overseas, do to endanger the regime?” a rights activist surnamed Lee told VOA on condition of anonymity.
Guo, whose real name is Yang Maodong, has been an active rights defender and political dissident since 2005. He had served a total of 11 years in prison on charges such as “picking quarrels and provoking” and “assembling a crowd to disturb order at public places.”
He was last freed from jail in late 2019 after having served a six-year sentence for his participation in a protest against the Guangzhou government’s censorship of a local liberal-leaning publication – the Southern Weekly.
However, Guo remains an outspoken dissident, who has called on Chinese President Xi Jinping to launch political reforms, abide by the country’s constitution and ensure press freedom, while urging the Chinese government to deepen its cooperation with the U.S.
To avoid China’s alleged political persecution, Guo’s wife, Zhang Qing, and their two children fled to the U.S. in 2009 and have been granted political asylum there.
A group of more than 100 dissidents, led by former Tiananmen Square movement leader Wang Dan, signed a petition in support of Guo.
They said, in a press statement, that “given Guo is a free man, China has no rights to keep him from visiting his family overseas whether it is from the legal, human rights or humanitarian perspectives. China’s inhuman move has proved again that its regime is increasingly fascist.”
“We called on western governments to help Guo facilitate his trip through diplomatic avenues,” the statement read.
In particular, Wu’er Kaixi, another Tiananmen student leader who also signed the petition, called on U.S. President Joe Biden and his administration to extend a helping hand to Guo.
Calls on U.S. to take action
“President Biden has and [Secretary of State] Mr. [Antony] Blinken has also strongly reiterated their stance against China, based on values, … We want to see action following [their] very well-said statement. And we want to see action to help Guo Feixiong and that action will ratify those statements,” Wu’er told VOA.
The former Tiananmen activist, who now lives in Taipei, said that many in Taiwan are also “outraged” about China’s disapproval of Guo’s travel – a move he said “was against the minds and hearts of all mankind.”
Several other rights groups, including the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concerned Group, the U.S.-based Human Rights Lawyers of China and the Taipei-based New School for Democracy, all denounced China’s restriction on Guo’s ability to travel freely.
The restriction “is inhuman and it is also a reprisal to legal activists in China,” Du Song of the Hong Kong-based rights group said in a written reply to VOA, urging China to quickly reverse its decision.
In a press statement, the U.S.-based rights group expressed concern over Guo’s health.
“We’re deeply concerned about his health and life after he has staged another indefinite hunger strike. Guo was once on hunger strike in 2014 for a long time, which had taken a toll on his physical condition… We urge all relevant bodies [in China] to reconsider and soon greenlight his trip to take care of his wife in the U.S.” its statement read.