Sex worker rights activist Ye Haiyan says she is barred from leaving China

The prominent social worker and rights activist was expected to attend the World Aids Summit in Melbourne on Wednesday

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2014, 2:31pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2014, 4:28pm

Ye Haiyan, a prominent advocate for sex workers’ rights, says she has been barred from leaving China on Wednesday prior to her scheduled departure for Australia to attend a global Aids conference.

Ye, 39, has been raising awareness about the abuse of sex workers’ rights in China for almost a decade, defying harassment by local authorities and even house arrest.

“I’m very surprised and angry about these restrictions imposed by the government,” Ye said. “I only get to see my colleagues once every two years at these conferences.”

In China, prostitution and other forms of sex work are illegal, and people involved are often punished with extrajudicial detention in re-education camps.

Last year, Ye launched a social media campaign to push for the trial of a Hainan school principal accused of raping schoolchildren.  

She and dozens of other activists and sympathisers shared photos of themselves holding banners that read, “Principals, if you want to get a room, get one with me and leave the kids alone.” It went viral and the principal was eventually sentenced to 13 years imprisonment for the rape of four girls aged 11 to 14.

However, Ye was detained, beaten by unidentified people and kicked out of her rented home following the campaign.

Watch: Ye Haiyan speaks with the Post in May 2013

Ye last left the mainland in May to visit friends in Hong Kong, shortly before her permit to travel to the territory expired. Last month, she sent her passport to a visa handling agency in Beijing.

Ye needed an Australian visa to attend the 20th International Aids Conference in Melbourne, which is scheduled to start this Sunday. She had already booked an air ticket for departure on Wednesday.

She is registered as a regular delegate with no formal speaking role in the conference's main programme, a spokesperson for the International AIDS Society said. 

The visa agency, however, refused to process her application and told her they would send the passport back to her, Ye told the South China Morning Post. But she hasn't received the returned passport so far. 

The agency declined to provide her with the address they sent the passport to or the item number used to track registered mail delivery. Ye asked for the agency not to be identified. A person processing her visa did not respond to calls on Wednesday. 

Earlier this week, she applied for a renewal of her Two-Way Permit to travel to Hong Kong.

She said a government staffer in Wuhan’s Xinzhou district administration informed her that she had been placed on the so-called “red list” of people barred from leaving the country, she said.

Ye said she has attended previous international conferences abroad, including one in India in 2012. This was the first time she had been barred from leaving the country, she said. “I hope other colleagues can attend, but I’m worried there is not enough time left to prepare,” she said. 

In a statement on Wednesday, the International Aids Society said it was "very concerned" about the decision to bar Ye from travelling.

"Activists and representatives of key affected populations are a pivotal part of the International Aids Conference and its programme," it said. "We therefore ask that the decision to bar Ye Haiyan from travelling be reversed."