In an interview with Human Rights in China (HRIC), Feng Zhenghu (冯正虎), a Chinese citizen who has been denied return to China since June 7, 2009, says that the international community must not forget the meaning of Human Rights Day, December 10, which commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations in 1948.
The UDHR enshrines the right to travel and return to one’s own country in Article 13, Subsection (2), which states: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”
Feng said that he wanted to “rest” today, Human Rights Day, because it is the international community’s responsibility to not only advocate, but also uphold the principle and practice of the protection of fundamental human rights.
In a case that has attracted international media attention over the past month, the Shanghai-based economist-turned-human rights educator has been refused entry into China eight times. He had left China on April 1, 2009, following his release from a “guest house” run by the Navy in Shanghai, where he was illegally held for 41 days (February 15 – March 25). He said that State Security officers had asked his family to persuade him to “go out to recuperate for a while,” and had told his family: “Don’t worry, Professor Feng will definitely be able to come back.”
So far, the Chinese authorities have not offered reasons for barring Feng’s entry. Feng’s passport is reportedly valid until 2012.
Feng was imprisoned for three years (2001-2003) and fined for 400,000 yuan (about $58,500) on conviction of “illegal business activities” relating to his publication of a book and CD without official permission. After his release, he sued the Shanghai Municipal Press and Publication Bureau (上海新闻出版局) for denying him the permission without a valid reason. He lost the case.
The prison term was a turning point for him. He used his time to study law so that he could use it to protect his own rights. After leaving prison, he began actively helping Shanghai petitioners to seek redress through legal channels by providing information on law and the Chinese Constitution. In addition to publishing a “Monitoring Bulletin” (“督察简报”), he has collected and published sample cases of injustice resulting from judicial bias. Because he believes that “autocratic societies create fear and cut off people from one another,” he has made it a goal to connect and organize petitioners, and to educate people so that they can get involved in governance.
“In dealing with people perceived to pose a serious challenge to their rule, the Chinese authorities routinely violate the right to travel from and return to one’s own country by 1) exiling Chinese citizens; 2) denying them the right to leave China; and 3) denying them the right to return,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China.
HRIC urges China to live up to its aspiration to be a responsible member of the international community by respecting basic human rights, and to articulate the reasons, if any, for the denial of Feng’s return. HRIC also urges the international community to not give China yet another free pass on its human rights violations, but to press China to abide by its international obligations and allow its citizens to return to China.