The son of top human rights lawyer Wang Yu and her legal activist husband Bao Longjun, detained in a massive nationwide crackdown on rights lawyers and activists in July 2015, has arrived in Australia after being under house arrest with his parents and denied permission to leave China for more than two years, RFA has learned.
Bao Zhuoxuan, also known by his nickname Bao Mengmeng, was just 16 when his passport was confiscated in the wake of his parents’ arrest on the night of July 9, 2015 at the start of a nationwide police operation targeting the legal profession that became know as the “709 crackdown.”
He had planned to complete his high school education overseas.
The teenager later tried to escape across the border from the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan into northern Myanmar with a couple of fellow activists posing as tourists.
But Bao and his minders were taken away from the Huadu Guesthouse in the Myanmar border town of Mongla by local police and handed over to the Chinese authorities.
Rights activists Tang Zhishun and Xing Qingxian were both later detained in the Tianjin No. 2 Detention Center on suspicion of “organizing the smuggling of persons across a national boundary.”
Now, Bao has finally been allowed to leave China, nearly three years after he had planned.
“My son’s passport came through [in late] November, and we immediately applied for a visa,” Bao Longjun told RFA on Thursday. “He arrived in Melbourne at around 2.00 p.m. yesterday.”
“Our boy was treated as guilty by association with us, and he has suffered greatly as a result,” he said. “It’s as if a huge weight has finally fallen from our shoulders.”
Bao said his son’s departure had been part of a plea bargain struck with the authorities that led to his and Wang Yu’s “confession” to subversion charges and their subsequent release on “bail,” to be held under surveillance as a family.
“I am pleased that [the authorities] actually kept their promise,” he said. “I hope he will now be able to complete his studies in Australia; we will have to see whether or not he is targeted [by agents of the Chinese state] while he is there.”
Bao said his family isn’t the only one that has seen innocent loved ones embroiled in the consequences of the July 2015 crackdown, citing the case of fellow lawyer Li Heping.
“[Li] Heping’s kid is due to take his gaokao [college entrance exam] in June, and he wants to go overseas to study at a good university,” Bao said. “I hope the authorities treat his kid in the same way as ours.”
But he said the greatest fears are around detained lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who remains in the Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center, denied visits from his lawyers, more than two years after his “disappearance” in 2015.
Wang Yu’s defense attorney Wen Donghai said the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on human rights lawyers hasn’t ended yet.
“Right now it looks as if they are backing off in some areas and cracking down in others,” Wen told RFA. “This is all part of their strategy.”
“If you look at the thinking of [President] Xi Jinping, I don’t think the future will be very bright for those who practice law; not as bright as we once thought it would,” Wen said.
Wang and Bao once worked for the now-shuttered Fengrui law firm that was the first target of police raids and detentions in July 2015 that broadened into a nationwide operation targeting more than 300 lawyers, law firm staff and associated rights activists for detention, professional sanctions, house arrest, and travel bans, including for family members.
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