Peking bars way home to top trade union leader: China's human rights record under scrutiny after expulsion of activist

CHINA has cancelled the passport of the leading labour activist Han Dongfang and barred him from returning to the mainland in a move which is likely to focus international attention on the country's human rights record just one month before the International Olympics Committee votes on Peking's attempt to host the 2000 Olympics.

Mr Han was told of the decision on Saturday when he called on the New China News Agency (NCNA), China's de facto embassy in Hong Kong, to lobby for permission to re-enter his homeland. A mainland official said the passport had been revoked because Mr Han had been involved in alleged anti-government activities during the past year which 'undermined the interests' of China.

Mr Han, 30, founded China's first independent trade union since 1949 and was a leading spokesman during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. He has spent the past year receiving medical treatment in the United States for the tuberculosis he contracted during the 22 months he spent in prison in China. Ten days ago, travelling on a valid passport, he returned to China but was thrown out by the authorities in Guangdong province and told he was unwelcome.

He is now effectively stateless. The Hong Kong government has extended his transit visa, which ran out yesterday, but he does not have a passport. A government spokesman said China's action was contrary to international law and to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and urged Peking to reconsider its decision.

The case is receiving growing international attention because of the many foreign politicians, in particular from the United States, who are visiting Hong Kong and China this month. Last week Mr Han met the US Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who said she was disappointed with the trade unionist's expulsion from his country. The US State Department also deplored the original expulsion.

A tearful Mr Han, after being told about the cancellation of his passport, said: 'It is not only a shame for me but also a shame for all Chinese.' When Mr Han left China last September, all charges against him had been dropped and he always said he planned to return to his country within one year. The NCNA official refused to tell him which laws he had allegedly broken.

The passport decision must have been taken at the highest levels in Peking. China could have opted to stall on the issue until the 23 September vote on the 2000 Olympics venue was out of the way, but chose to disregard international opinion.

Renewal next year by the US of China's most-favoured nation trading status is supposed to depend on improvements in human rights and Mr Han's treatment is now certain to be an issue for Congressmen visiting China during the next months. Pro- democracy groups in Hong Kong yesterday demonstrated outside the NCNA building.