Two American siblings prevented from leaving China since 2018 have now been allowed to travel back to the United States.
CNN  — 

Two American siblings prevented from leaving China since 2018 have now been allowed to travel back to the United States.

In June 2018, Chinese authorities imposed an “exit ban” on Victor and Cynthia Liu, both American citizens, as they were visiting family in China. A State Department spokesperson said they “welcome Cynthia and Victor Liu’s return to the United States on Sunday.”

“Our consular staff in Shanghai helped facilitate their departure,” the spokesperson said Tuesday, adding they made this confirmation after close consultation with the family.

Victor and Cynthia Liu declined to comment. David Pressman, a former US government official and the US-based lawyer who led their case, said Tuesday that “at long last, two young Americans are back home in America, once again able to enjoy the daily blessings of freedom we all too often take for granted in this country.”

“After years of painstaking and difficult work by many people, it was a privilege to be able to finally embrace Victor and Cynthia and welcome them home,” he said in a statement.

The lifting of the exit ban on Victor and Cynthia Liu, both American citizens, follows an agreement between the US Department of Justice and Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to defer prosecution of US charges against her until late 2022. That agreement allowed Meng, who had been detained in Canada, to return to China. Beijing also released two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, following Meng’s release.

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Victor and Cynthia Liu had returned to the US after Chinese police lifted restrictions on their travel movements, insisting the ban was an “independent judicial act” based on China’s “rule of law.”

“The handling of the Two Liu case was an independent judicial act. China is a country under the rule of law,” Hua said. “Anyone, regardless of nationality, as long as suspected of illegal crimes should be prohibited from leaving the country in accordance of the law and the Chinese law enforcement agencies will deal with it in accordance with the law.”

In August 2019, Victor Liu, a Georgetown student, told CNN his family was being held in order to pressure their father Liu Changming, a high-profile Chinese fugitive, into returning to Beijing, where he is still wanted for financial crimes. Both Cynthia and Victor Liu have said their father abandoned the family years ago and they were not in contact with him.

The Liu siblings’ mother, Sandra Han, was separated from her children in 2018 and remains in China.

The brother and sister made public pleas about their plight and Cynthia Liu wrote a letter to Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat, asking for his help. They also made an appeal in 2019 to then-President Donald Trump for help.

Markey and fellow Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Monday praised the Liu siblings’ return to the US in a joint statement, saying they were “being held in China as pawns for the Chinese government.” The senators also said they would work with the Biden administration to secure the release of their mother.

A bipartisan group of senators, including Markey, reintroduced legislation in April that would revoke or deny visas to Chinese officials “involved in the formulation or execution of a policy that prevents innocent United States citizens from leaving China.”

In a travel advisory issued in 2019, the State Department warned US citizens of China’s “coercive” use of exit bans.

The State Department spokesperson said Tuesday, “we oppose the use of coercive exit bans against people who are not themselves charged with crimes.

“We will continue to advocate on behalf of all American citizens in the (People’s Republic of China) subject to arbitrary detention and coercive exit bans,” they said.

This story has been updated with additional details Tuesday.