Chinese Activist Feng Zhenghu Living at Narita Airport, Blocked by Chinese Authorities From Returning Home

December 3, 2009

Chinese authorities have prevented Chinese citizen Feng Zhenghu from returning home to Shanghai from Tokyo, in contravention of the right to return to one's own country set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Since November 4, Feng has been living at Tokyo's Narita Airport, refusing to enter Japan and demanding his right to return to China. Feng has become a cause celebre -- a symbol for the right to return home; he is receiving food, daily necessities, and moral support from the Chinese diaspora as well as mainland Chinese.


Feng Zhenghu, a 55-year-old Shanghai-based Chinese citizen, who holds a valid Chinese passport, is currently engaged in a peaceful protest at Tokyo's Narita Airport, after having been refused re-entry into China eight times since June 2009, according to a November 16 Sound of Hope report, a November 14 Financial Times (FT) article (registration may be required), and Feng's own account. According to a November 16 FT report (registration may be required), Feng's eighth attempt to return to Shanghai on November 4 ended with his forcibly being put on an All Nippon Airways (ANA) flight back to Tokyo by Shanghai police and an ANA employee. Although Feng holds a valid Japanese work visa, which permits him to travel freely to Japan, he refuses to enter Japan. Feng told the Financial Times that "[f]or a Chinese to be kidnapped and taken to Japan like this is a humiliation for me and a humiliation for China."

Feng has become a symbol for the right of Chinese to return to China. Various Chinese groups around the world (including some Chinese activists who similarly have been forced into exile) have mobilized on Feng's behalf to provide him with food, supplies, and technical support to enable him to use Twitter to post updates about his current situation using his mobile phone, according to Feng's essay, entitled "Feng Zhenghu's Twitter," the Sound of Hope report, and the November 16 FT article. Chinese citizens within China also are expressing support for Feng (see, e.g., appeals to help Feng issued by a group of Shanghai petitioners (here), and a group of Sichuan writers, activists, and others (here). As with the recent case of Li Jianhong (aka Xiao Qiao), the Shanghai writer whom Chinese authorities forced into exile in Sweden by blocking her from re-entering China, the Chinese government's actions in prohibiting Feng from entering China contravene Article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides: "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." In addition, Article 12(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has signed but not yet ratified, states: "No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country."


Feng Zhenghu, who holds a master's degree from Shanghai's Fudan University, is a human rights activist, writer, and signer of Charter 08. From 2001 to 2004, Feng served a three-year prison sentence for "illegal business activities" related to his independent publication of a book about Japanese companies in China, according to a statement issued by PEN Canada (PEN) and an Associated Press (AP) article (via Guardian). Following Feng's release from prison in 2004, he began to petition for his innocence and collect accounts of cases of injustice in the Shanghai court system, according to PEN and a June 6, 2008, Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) report. In recent years, Feng has become well-known for assisting petitioners to protect their rights, according to two Radio Free Asia (RFA) articles (on November 4 here, and November 12 here). Earlier this year, during the "sensitive period" leading up to and including the annual March meeting of the National People's Congress in Beijing, Feng spent over a month in a black jail in Shanghai. According to Feng's account (via CHRD) and a March 16 CHRD report, on February 15, 2009, Shanghai authorities and unofficial personnel kidnapped Feng in Beijing while he was walking en route with petitioners to a meeting with a lawyer, and forcibly returned him to Shanghai, where he was detained illegally in a black jail. On April 1, 2009, about a week after his release from the black jail, Feng traveled to Japan―where he had lived and studied from 1991 to 1998―in order to rest and recuperate, according to an article about Feng in the September 2009 issue of Dongxiang (Trends) Magazine (via New Century Net).

Feng Attempts To Return to Shanghai From Tokyo

Feng's first attempt to return to Shanghai from Tokyo was on June 7, 2009, but Shanghai authorities blocked his entry into China, thus leading him to where he is today: living in the south wing of Terminal 1 at Narita Airport. According to the AP report (via Guardian), Feng has attempted to return to Shanghai eight times: four times he made it to Shanghai's Pudong Airport but was refused entry and sent back to Japan; the other four times he was prevented from boarding flights in Tokyo headed to Shanghai. On his eighth attempt to return to Shanghai on November 4, Feng arrived at Pudong Airport, but forcibly was put on an ANA flight back to Tokyo. The November 16 FT article (registration may be required) reports that ANA told the FT that "its staff had needed to use 'just a little bit' of force to ensure Mr. Feng was on the flight, since it was already an hour late and Shanghai authorities had made it clear it could not depart until he was on board." Feng told the FT that he would only agree to enter Japan if ANA promised to take him back to China. Feng has filed several lawsuits in Japan against the airlines (Air China International and Northwest Airlines) that prevented him from boarding Tokyo-to-Shanghai flights, according to a November 4 RFA report. In late October 2009, well-known human rights lawyer Mo Shaoping filed a lawsuit in Shanghai against the border control authorities at Pudong Airport on behalf of Feng. Mo told RFA: "If the airport authorities bar the entry of a Chinese citizen, they have to present a formal written notice detailing the legal basis for their action. But up until now, Feng Zhenghu never received any formal document to explain why he cannot return. Thus this banning is not a just and legal action." As of November 18, the Chinese government still had not given Feng any reason for its refusal to let him return to China, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times (LAT).

Overseas Chinese and Citizens in China Mobilize To Support Feng

Chinese activists around the world have mobilized to send food, supplies, and moral support to Feng, and to publicize his cause. For example, Chinese democracy activists in Canada and Denmark have gone to the international airports in Vancouver and Copenhagen to ask passengers heading to Tokyo to support Feng by bringing him food and other necessities, according to a November 12 report in RFA, and the Sound of Hope article. Chinese students from Hong Kong and Taiwan have made special trips to Narita to bring Feng food and supplies (see the November 18 LAT article, and press releases dated November 12 and November 19 from the U.S.-based non-governmental organization Initiatives for China). In addition to the open letters calling for support for Feng from groups of Chinese citizens in Shanghai and Sichuan mentioned above, Feng has received telephone calls, letters, tweets, and other support from Chinese citizens in mainland China. Famous artist and blogger Ai Weiwei, for example, has visited Feng and is making a video about him, according to a Canwest News Service article, and Feng's post on Google Docs. As of December 1, more than 5,000 people were following Feng on Twitter.

For more information on restrictions on movement in China, see Section II―Freedom of Residence―Liberty of Movement in the CECC 2009 Annual Report, and for more background information on Feng, the CECC Political Prisoner Database for a record of Feng's detentions in 2008 and 2009.