Feng Zhenghu: Imprisoned at Home for Over 200 Days
Crime and Punishment, Without the Crime
Feng Zhenghu’s story is similar to the plot of Steven Spielberg’s 2004 film The Terminal. In the movie, Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) is left stranded in JFK International Airport after the sudden outbreak of war in his home country. This action makes him a stateless citizen and turns his travel documents into wastepaper.
- During the Cultural Revolution, people were sentenced to death or outright murdered because of one wrong sentence. In China today writers do not lose their lives over their poems or articles; however, they are jailed for years. My friend Liu Xiaobo for example will stay in prison till 2020; even winning the Nobel Peace Prize could not help him. In prison those lucky enough not to be sentenced to hard labor play “blind chess” to kill
time AND TO TRAIN THE BRAIN NOT TO RUST. Freedom of expression is still a luxury in China. The firewall is everywhere, yet words can fly above it and so can our thoughts. My column, like the blind chess played by prisoners, is an exercise to keep our brains from rusting and the situation in China from indifference.
- Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.
Feng Zhenghu is a Shanghai-based scholar and an irrepressible human rights activist. Between 2009 and 2010 he attempted to return to China (with a valid Chinese passport) after visiting Japan, but his re-entry was rejected. This did not happen because there was civil war or a revolution in China; the motherland just wanted to get rid of a naughty critic. As a result, Feng spent 92 days in the immigration zone of Narita Airport, crouched on a couch. The incident became a scandal and attracted the attention of international media. He was finally allowed to board a flight home in February 2010, shortly before the Chinese New Year.
After that Feng lived in peace with the Shangahi authorities for more than a year, although he was also under constant surveillance. However, the situation changed on February 27th of this year. The police are again besieging Feng’s home in Yangpu district. Over 10 police officers guard his flat and do not allow him to leave the house. This action costs taxpayers more than 200,000 RMB each month (around $32,000 US).
On June 13th, dozens of Feng’s supporters came to his house and formed a shouting chorus under his window: “Give Feng Zhenghu’s freedom back!” The situation is bizarre and grotesque; he has not committed any crime, there is no legal process forming against him, and the prosecutor has not served him with a notice. It’s just that the police do not allow him to leave his house. His sympathizers bring him fresh groceries daily and lay them in a basket, which Feng hands down with a rope. It’s a modern-day Rapunzel story without the romance.
Well, Feng is not quite as innocent as Rapunzel. From 2007 until Feb. 2012 he edited a small newsletter called “Supervision Bulletin” in which he reported on social injustices and violations of the law committed by government officers. There were also case studies of common people who had their property disturbed or their rights violated by the authorities. On average Feng sent one thousand copies of this bulletin to the central and local governments once a month. By now 64 booklets have been published and disseminated both physically and online. This action makes him a thorn in the government’s paw.
Feng also edited four volumes of I want to post a suit: Casebook of the non-action of the Shanghai Judicial Authority. This is a collection of 430 cases that describes how citizens’ civil rights have been violated and how their rights of appeal have been infringed. Because of this document, Feng’s house was raided more than 10 times in the past two years. His cell phones and 13 computers were confiscated. The police also physically attacked him; now his knee and spine are damaged and he cannot get any medical treatment.
In May, Chen Guangcheng escaped from his besieged home and successfully made it to the US. Afterwards Feng Zhenghu wrote to premier Wen Jiabao and accused the local authorities of surrounding his house and locking him in the invisible prison that is his home. After many house raids, he did not have any electronic devices. Since he could not leave the house to go to the post office, he wrote the appeal letter on paper and threw it out of a window. Some of his fans collected it on the street and the letter was then published on the website Boxun.
This act caused his situation to deteriorate. The plainclothes police officers have stepped up their guard. No one expects Feng to be a free man before the 18th Party Congress of the CCP. If the future of the huge empire is on edge and its direction unpredictable, then we have reason to worry about the fate of this courageous human rights defender.