Wife of Chinese Activist Detained at Beijing Airport

By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 25, 2007

BEIJING, Aug. 24 -- The wife of a blind, imprisoned legal activist was detained at the Beijing airport Friday by authorities, apparently on orders to prevent her from flying to the Philippines to receive an award on behalf of her husband, whose case has sparked international outrage and condemnation.

Yuan Weijing, 30, was forcibly returned to her home village near Linyi city in Shandong province. She had been staying in Beijing since sneaking out from under police surveillance last month to come here and work on the case to free her husband.

"I was taken to the basement of the Beijing airport after I was stopped by the airport official at the security check," Yuan said in a telephone interview. "I saw 16 to 17 strong men in the basement, some of whom were from my town. We stayed in the basement for several minutes, and then left for Linyi."

Yuan's husband, Chen Guangcheng, 35, was jailed last year after embarrassing Linyi and Shandong officials by exposing abuses in their population control policy, including forced late-term abortions and sterilizations.

Chen was to receive an award, in absentia, from the Manila-based Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, which cited his "irrepressible passion for justice in leading ordinary Chinese citizens to assert their legitimate rights under the law."

Government harassment of rights activists such as Chen and his supporters has been stepped up with the approach of the 17th Communist Party Congress, at which President Hu Jintao is expected to cement his leadership by placing loyalists in key positions. Authorities in recent weeks have cracked down on news media, shut down nongovernmental organizations and canceled conferences on sensitive subjects such as HIV/AIDS.

Before she emerged back in Linyi, Yuan's friends feared what might have happened to her. Zeng Jinyan, a Beijing activist, had accompanied Yuan to the airport, though the two separated after Yuan checked in.

Several minutes later, Yuan called Zeng from her mobile phone to say that airport officials had told her that her passport was "invalid and registered as lost," Zeng said.

Then, at 3:15 p.m., Yuan called Zeng's husband, Hu Jia, who recorded the phone call. "Hu Jia, I've been kidnapped," Yuan said. "All my belongings have been robbed!"

"Where are you?" Hu asked.

"I can't say, I'm in a bathroom," Yuan said.

When she was able to use her phone again, Yuan said she had called Hu from a highway restroom in Hebei province as she and seven men were driving to Shandong.

"They took away all my belongings: my laptop, my digital recorder, my digital camera, my video camera and my clothes. Each item was examined carefully by them. No one showed any legal documents or ID to me when searching my things," she said in the interview. "Even now, I have no idea who they are. I could only keep my cellphone, but every time I tried to call, they threatened to beat me."

In Linyi, Yuan said she insisted on waiting in the car until her luggage and belongings were returned. Instead, the men pulled her hair and twisted her arms, dragging her out of the car, she said. She called local police, but they did not help.

"I tell you, the darkness of the society is way beyond your imagination," she said. "Many of our friends knew that I might not make the trip" to the Philippines, "but they will never imagine that I was kidnapped and beaten up again by those people."

Airport police said Friday afternoon that they had not taken Yuan into custody. An airport police officer who identified himself by his surname, Zhang, said there had been no signs of "disorder" at the airport. "We have dozens of staff patrolling at the airport, but no one saw her," Zhang said.

China's Foreign Ministry and Beijing's Public Security Bureau had no comment.

Researchers Jin Ling and Li Jie contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company