China’s Communist authorities are using Soviet-style passport restrictions and de facto travel bans to penalize up to 14 million ethnic Uighurs and Tibetans, and hundreds of dissidents.
“Lawyers and human rights advocates say the number of those affected has soared in recent years, with Tibetans and Uighurs, the Turkic-speaking minority from China’s far west, increasingly ineligible for overseas fellowships, speaking engagements or the organized sightseeing groups that have ferried planeloads of Chinese to foreign capitals,” the New York Times reports:
The seemingly arbitrary restrictions, not unlike those long employed by the former Soviet Union, also affect overseas Chinese who had grown accustomed to frequent visits home. Scores of Chinese expatriates have been denied new passports by Chinese Embassies when their old ones expire, while others say they are simply turned away after landing in Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong. Returnees whose names show up on a blacklist are escorted by border control officers to the next outbound flight. Even if seldom given explanations for their expulsions, many of those turned away suspect it is punishment for their antigovernment activism abroad.
“Compared to other forms of political persecution, the denial of the right to return home seems like a small evil,” said Hu Ping, the editor of a pro-democracy journal in New York who has not been allowed to see family members in China since 1987. “But it’s a blatant violation of human rights.”
“On Feb. 6, Wang Zhongxia, 28, a Chinese activist who had planned to meet the Burmese opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was barred from boarding a Myanmar-bound flight from the southern city of Guangzhou,” the Times continues:
Four days earlier, Ilham Tohti [above], an academic and vocal advocate for China’s ethnic Uighurs, was prevented from leaving for the United States. Mr. Tohti, who was set to begin a yearlong fellowship at Indiana University, said he was interrogated at Beijing International Airport for nearly 12 hours by officers who refused to explain his detention. Speaking from his apartment in the capital, Mr. Tohti says that Uighurs have long faced difficulties in obtaining passports but that the authorities have made it nearly impossible in recent years.
“We feel like second-class citizens in our own country,” he said.
While many non-minority dissidents have been impacted by the travel curbs, “the rules are more arduous for Tibetans and Uighurs, who must win approvals from several layers of bureaucracy — including provincial authorities; the applicant’s hometown public security bureau; and for students, university administrators,” the Times notes:
Tsering Woeser [left], a Tibetan writer who has tried and failed to get a passport since 2005 [and whose blog Invisible Tibet, was recently recognized by Reporters Without Borders], says the denials are driven by fears that once abroad, minorities will speak out about China’s repressive ethnic policies or link up with exile groups.
“For the Han, getting a passport is as easy as buying a bus ticket,” she said. “But for Tibetans it’s harder than climbing to the sky.”