(CNN)An American woman who has been prevented from leaving China for almost a year made an emotional plea this week for her family to be able to return home.
The Liu siblings — Cynthia, 28, and Victor, 19 — and their mother, Sandra Han, traveled to China in June 2018 to visit their ailing grandfather. Chinese authorities have prevented them from leaving through the use of an exit ban. All three are US citizens.
In a video obtained by CNN on Thursday, Cynthia Liu said she and her brother “wake up every morning terrified.”
“After 11 months of being in a place where every twist and turn seems designed to crush our spirits so completely, we have never felt more exhausted, sad and hopeless. We hang on by a thread to our sanity and to any sliver of hope,” an emotional Liu said. “We need to go home.”
Liu said she and her brother have been separated from their mother by Chinese authorities and they have not seen or spoken to her “in a long time.” While Liu said they can move around within China, she said she cannot work and her brother cannot go to school. The siblings’ location in China is unclear.
“Our lives have been interrupted and we feel trapped,” she said. “We live with the grave fear that even as Americans our safety is not guaranteed, our voices cannot be properly heard and that our destiny is not in our control.”
The Lius are reportedly being used to pressure their father, Liu Changming, a high-profile Chinese fugitive, into returning to Beijing, where he is wanted for financial crimes. China has accused the family of being “involved in economic crimes.”
Cynthia Liu said they were unaware that their father was wanted by the Chinese government and said he had abandoned the family “many years ago.” She said they were not in touch with him, had no way of reaching him and didn’t know where he was.
“This fact, that we’re being held for the alleged acts of someone we barely know, makes us feel incredibly hopeless,” she said.
David Pressman, a former deputy UN ambassador who is serving as legal counsel for the Liu siblings, said in a statement that “trapping young Americans for use as a crude form of human bait is inexcusable and contrary to both Chinese and international law.”
“Victor and Cynthia Liu are American citizens who have done nothing wrong and are suffering enormously. They need to come home. Given the dangerous nature of this situation, we will continue our efforts to directly and constructively engage the Chinese government and refrain from further public comment,” he said.
A source familiar with the situation said Pressman is in regular contact with the White House about the case. The White House did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
A State Department spokesperson told CNN that they are “watching US citizens Victor and Cynthia Liu’s case with concern.”
“The two have been unable to leave China since June 2018 due to an exit ban placed on them by the Chinese government without due process,” they said. “We are providing consular services to Victor and Cynthia Liu and are in close contact with the siblings as they try to return home to the United States.”
The State Department warned of China’s “coercive” use of exit bans in a travel advisory in January.
“Chinese authorities have asserted broad authority to prohibit U.S. citizens from leaving China by using ‘exit bans,’ sometimes keeping U.S. citizens in China for years,” the advisory said. “China uses exit bans coercively: to compel U.S. citizens to participate in Chinese government investigations, to lure individuals back to China from abroad, and to aid Chinese authorities in resolving civil disputes in favor of Chinese parties.”