CHINA’S MERCILESS effort to crush dissenters and those who defend human rights not only aims to break the spirit of individuals who challenge the system. Authorities also go after family members, subjecting them to threats and punishment. In a brazen new example, China has reached across the border into Burma to nab the fleeing 16-year-old son of human rights lawyers who were detained in July.
On the night of July 9, China began a widespread crackdown on lawyers and activists known as members of the rights defense movement. These lawyers had been allowed to defend clients on a case-by-case basis, making use of China’s existing laws and the Internet to expose the plight of the abused. As we pointed out over the summer, these lawyers and activists were often permitted to function — despite the overwhelming power of the Chinese party-state and its general intolerance of dissent — because, with individual cases, they did not seem to threaten the regime. But since the crackdown began, 293 of them have been questioned by police or detained, a serious setback for the movement and an assertion that President Xi Jinping will not tolerate independent voices of any kind.
Among those detained July 9 was human rights lawyer Wang Yu. At that moment, her husband, Bao Longjun, was at the airport preparing to take their son, Bao Zhuoxuan, to study in Australia. Both father and son were hauled out of the security line at the airport and thrown into vans. Ms. Wang and Mr. Bao have not been seen since. The boy’s passport was confiscated; he was told he could not leave China and was sent to live with grandparents in Inner Mongolia.
The son decided to flee. He crossed from China to Burma at the notorious border town of Mong La, where passports are not required and the Chinese have a strong influence. He was apparently hoping to make it to Thailand and then on to the United States. Bao Zhuoxuan was detained at a guest house in Mong La on Oct. 6 in circumstances that look like a snatch by the Chinese authorities.
The grab is reminiscent of the brutal kidnapping of Wang Bingzhang, a democracy activist who was abducted while on a trip to Vietnam in 2002 and then sentenced to life in prison in China. If China can reach out and seize the son of dissidents in a Burmese border town, will it do the same in Bangkok or Baltimore?
The campaign against family members is an abhorrent tactic of thugs. The State Department described it as a “seemingly systematic campaign by China to target family members of Chinese citizens who peacefully challenge official policy and work to protect the rights of others.” China should immediately free Bao Zhuoxuan’s parents and allow him to leave the country . And not to be forgotten are many other lawyers, dissidents and activists languishing in Chinese prisons and camps because they had the courage to speak out for freedom and basic human rights.