China bans activist from family visit to Japan

Authorities in China have banned an former democracy activist from visiting his terminally ill sister in Japan. Zhu Yufu, 70, wants to see his sister Zhu Yanmin, 65, who has lung cancer, one last time.

He has a visa to enter Japan, but because of his background he is not allowed to leave China. "China is one big prison. This is how I will live until the end of my life," he says.

His sister is heartbroken. She has not seen him for more than 5 years.

Yanmin has lived in Japan for three decades. She first came as a student and ended up marrying a Japanese man. Her husband died seven years ago, and now the cancer diagnosis has forced her to confront the prospect of her own death.

"I was told I have five years left to live. So I want to see my brother one last time," she says.

Zhu Yanmin lives in Nagasaki City, southwestern Japan.

Yufu is a founder of the Democratic Party of China, a group founded in 1998 that was subsequently outlawed. As a result, he served 7 years behind bars on charges of "attempting to undermine the authority of the state." He was imprisoned twice more after this, for a total of more than 15 years.

Since his release in 2018, he has been under house arrest and close surveillance. He has been trying to navigate the bureaucratic process that would allow him to visit his sister in Japan.

Pandemic travel restrictions stood in the way, but after they were lifted state security officials visited his home and asked him to hand over his passport.

"I told them I can't. Suddenly they changed their attitude. They threatened me and confiscated my passport," Yufu recounts.

He feels all hope is lost. "My house is under surveillance. If they say you can't leave China, there's nothing you can do."

Zhu Yufu spoke to NHK online.

Travel bans target Chinese activists

A report by Spain-based human rights group Safeguard Defenders suggests Yufu is not alone.

It finds that under Chinese President Xi Jinping, travel bans are frequently enforced to silence and punish activists — with signs that more people are being targeted.

Ako Tomoko, a Japanese academic who follows human rights in China, says authorities crack down on freedom of expression without providing any real reason.

The University of Tokyo professor notes the current climate has an impact on how the policy is enforced.

"China is becoming politically unstable, with severe economic conditions causing discontent. Under such a situation, the government somehow has to limit dissident voices, so it's sensitive even to requests to see family members," Ako explains.

Ako Tomoko, professor at the University of Tokyo, says authorities in China are cracking down on dissidents.

In the meantime, Yanmin has prepared a room for her brother. She even purchased a new bed in the hope that someday he can use it: "I won't give up. I'll keep waiting for my brother, but I'm not sure when he can come."