BEIJING Australia-based Chinese academic Feng Chongyi said late on Saturday he had boarded a flight leaving China, ending an ordeal that saw him interrogated by authorities and delayed from exiting the country.
Feng, an Australian permanent resident who retains his Chinese passport, boarded the flight from the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou and was scheduled to arrive in Sydney on Sunday morning. Flight tracking websites confirmed the plane had taken off.
Feng's case had sparked concern among international academics and prompted Australian government intervention.
"I'm on the plane," Feng told Reuters via text message shortly before his plane took off. "I will be back."
His lawyer, Chen Jinxue, told Reuters that state security officers who had been questioning Feng daily told the academic on Saturday morning that he was free to leave.
As a condition for his departure, Chen said, Feng was made to sign a statement agreeing not to divulge details of his questioning or where it had taken place.
China's foreign ministry could not immediately be reached for comment late on Saturday.
In a short video message to supporters recorded shortly before he left China, Feng described his ordeal as "one of life's little accidents".
"Now it is over," Feng, a long-serving associate professor in Chinese Studies at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), said in the video seen by Reuters. "I now have the chance to step out of the country, but I will return."
Since arriving in China a month ago for research, Feng had met with fellow academics, intellectuals and human rights lawyers in several cities.
He was first held for questioning in Kunming, the capital of southwestern Yunnan province, before being barred twice from boarding flights to Sydney from Guangzhou last Friday and Saturday, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters previously.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Thursday that Feng was being prevented from leaving on "national security" grounds, without elaborating.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
It said earlier this week the Australian government was "monitoring developments closely and has raised this case with senior Chinese officials".
(Editing by Tony Munroe and Ralph Boulton)