The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been expanding the use of exit bans and targeting everyone from human rights defenders to foreign journalists according to a new report from Safeguard Defenders. An Exit Ban is a state-initiated ban on an individual from leaving the country, either at the border or by canceling or confiscating their passport.
Trapped: China’s Expanding Use of Exit Bans published on May 2, 2023 says China uses exit bans to punish and silence human rights defenders (HRDs) and their families; hold family members hostage to force target overseas to come back to China; control ethnic-religious groups; engage in hostage diplomacy; and intimidate foreign journalists. It says “China has been expanding its use of exit bans under Xi Jinping. Exit bans have become one of the many tools used by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as part of broad efforts to tighten control over all aspects of people’s lives.”
Here are excerpts from the report:
National Supervision Law (2018) legalizes exit bans on investigation targets and by a non-judicial body; used as a tool of transnational repression on family members.
Exit bans issued without legal justification nor proper transparency. Often impossible to appeal. Blanket ethnic-wide effective bans target millions of Uyghurs and Tibetans.
Exit bans are authorized on national security grounds, involvement in criminal or civil cases, and more recently for COVID-19 containment measures (now abandoned). Exit bans are enforced at the border, at home via the confiscation of passports, or simply by denying passport applications or renewals. Many are unaware of their exit ban until they are at the border attempting to leave the country.
Although China does not release complete data on exit bans, human rights groups estimated that at least 14 million people were affected by exit bans in China in 2015.
Tibetans and Uyghurs have long been targeted with ethnicity-based exit bans, mostly through the confiscation and denial of passports. Also, it appears to be increasingly common that relatives of those targeted with exit bans are subjected to exit bans themselves as part of a widening practice of collective punishment. Exit bans are also imposed on relatives in China of activists and so called fugitives living overseas in order to force them to give up their activism or return to China.
Authorities in the Tibet Autonomous Region began confiscating the passports of all residents in the region, (over 90% being Tibetans) from as early as 2012. These passports have neither been returned nor reissued, effectively barring three million citizens from traveling abroad (except for the few who have authorization to travel on official government business).
Likewise, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has also been confiscating passports from local residents. For example, in 2015, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture ordered all three million residents (of which the majority are Uyghur), to hand in their passports to their local police station. Similarly, in 2016, Shihezi City in northern Xinjiang, ordered everyone to hand in their passports to the police for “safekeeping.”