China is increasing the use of exit bans, restricting foreigners from leaving the country if they or someone they know is suspected or involved in a legal dispute. While country’s use of exit bans is nothing new, it is perhaps its guilt by association factor that is most concerning.
Lawyers and diplomats have reported an increase in the use of the law in recent times, prompting, “Officials to stop someone from leaving the country even if they are not suspected of a crime… In many cases, they are kept in the country because they are related to someone involved in a business or legal dispute”, writes Michael Smith for the Financial Review.
Australian and American citizens have reported being refused exit from China for a matter of months or years at a time, with some even receiving jail terms.
To give an example, Nanjing based Carl Mather was imprisoned for 12 months in in 2012 over a scuffle that had happened in his home. Even though his Chinese wife insisted Mathers had acted in self defence, reacting to two men who had broken into his home angry over a business deal to do with his wife. Mathers was an English teacher in Nanjing.
To provide another example, the American children of a Chinese fugitive, Victor and Cynthia Liu, together with their mother, were recently denied exiting the country after entering to visit their ailing grandfather.
The mother was detained and the children later discovered at the airport; they were not allowed to leave “even though they were not being investigated nor had been charged with a crime”. It is thought that by holding the family in China, their fugitive father, Liu Chiangming, who is wanted in connection to a US$1.4b fraud case, will be lured back to China.
The United States and Australian governments have issued China travel warnings that state citizens can be held in China on the grounds of a legal dispute even if they are only associated with those involved.