In its quest for state control, China has prevented increasing numbers of people from leaving the country in recent years. Since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012, Beijing’s leadership has expanded and increasingly used its legal means of so-called travel bans, “sometimes without a legal basis,” said the organization Safeguard Defenders in a report published on Tuesday.

According to this, Beijing has passed five new or newly drafted laws since 2018, which have expanded the options for issuing exit bans to a total of 15. Between 2016 and 2020, the number of cases mentioning travel bans in the legal database of China’s Supreme Court increased eight-fold, the report said.

The Spain-based non-governmental organization criticizes the Chinese Communist Party’s use of travel bans as one of many means to “tighten control over all aspects of people’s lives”. Many are “not aware of their travel ban until they stand at the border and try to leave the country”.

The local laws that regulate the application are “vague, ambiguous, complex and far-reaching”. It is often “impossible” to take legal action against it. According to the NGO, it is difficult to determine how many people are affected by the bans due to the lack of official data. But she estimates that there are tens of thousands of citizens.

Dozens of foreigners have also been prevented from leaving China in recent years, including lawyers, journalists and business people. According to a 2022 study cited by the NGO, 128 foreigners were subject to exit bans between 1995 and 2019, including 29 US citizens and 44 Canadians.

Last week, international business associations expressed concern over announced changes to China’s counterintelligence law. In this context, they warned of an increased risk of arbitrary exit bans. The additional screening of companies “dramatically increases the uncertainties and risks of doing business in China,” said the US Chamber of Commerce.