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.
“I am taking a rest on Human Rights Day”
Excerpts from HRIC Interview with Feng Zhenghu, December 10, 2009
Translation by HRIC
Human Rights in China (HRIC): Did the authorities give any reasons for refusing your entry?
Feng Zhenghu: No, they did not. I tried to go through eight times and failed. Each time they said it was “the order of the superiors.” As for just who the “superiors” are, I don't know.
HRIC: Do you think the order came from the central government?
Feng Zhenghu: I have always worked within the framework of the law and the Constitution. I've never condemned the government. I have always supported the central government’s policies of of putting people first and governing the country in accordance with the law, and have respected the law and the Constitution. But the authorities do not act in accordance with the law or the Constitution, nor do they dare to explain themselves. Once I return to Shanghai, I intend to sue them and look into their illegal actions.
HRIC: Did anyone make any promise to you before you left for Japan from Shanghai?
Feng Zhenghu: On February 15, 2009, I was abducted by the Shanghai police in Beijing and returned to Shanghai. I was held in a guest house run by the Navy for 41 days. There were three policemen and three retired military policemen watching me day and night. I was released on March 25. For this incident, the Shanghai government spent over 200,000 yuan ($29,300). Before I was released, State Security officers told my family to persuade me to leave [the country] to recuperate for a while and promised that I would definitely be able to return. They told my family, “Don’t worry, Professor Feng will definitely be able to come back.”
HRIC: When you left China, did you think you might not be allowed back?
Feng Zhenghu: I had anticipated the possibility, but I believe that I will definitely be able to return to Shanghai. My family had not anticipated it because the State Security officers had promised them, and they couldn’t believe that the government could do something like this. I believe in putting theory into practice, and always want to use facts to convince people. Now my family understands the situation: perhaps even the State Security officers who were in a position to make the promise did not expect that their superiors would bar me from returning home.
[Editor’s note: Feng Zhenghu established the Shanghai Tianlun Zixun Company in September 1998. On November 13, 2000, Feng was detained on the charge of “illegal business activity,” for alleged violation of publication permit regulations. In June 2001, he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment by the Second Intermediate People’s Court of Shanghai and fined 400,000 yuan (about $58,500).]
HRIC: What kind of work have you been doing?
Feng Zhenghu: While in prison, I devoted myself to studying law and the Constitution, and used them to protect my own rights and those of other prisoners, with definite results. Safeguarding the Constitution and defending rights became my mission.
After I was released from prison, I discovered that it was vital to have the mentality of a regular person. You cannot, because you have been in prison, have the mentality of retaliating against society. Nor can you, because you have been petitioning for a long time without results, have the abnormal mentality of someone who has committed crimes. So what I did was to help them return to a normal psychological state. Autocratic societies create fear and cut people off from one another.
I’ve been in communication with people through different means, such as periodically organizing dinners with petitioners; publishing “Ducha Jianbao” (“Monitoring Bulletin”) with my own funds; and collecting and publishing cases under the titles of “Buoduo Gongmin Suquan de Shanghai Fayuna” (“The Shanghai Courts that Robbed Citizens of the Right to Appeal”) and “Bufu Shanghai Fayuan Caipan Shangfang Shensu Anjian Huibian” (“Collection of Cases by Petitioners Dissatisfied with the Judgments of the Shanghai Courts”) in order to help them defend their rights and interests using the law and the Constitution, and encourage them to communicate with and help each other, so that they can become normal people with a sense of honor and dignity. Once they are conscious of their honor, they will participate in governance and demand political participation and discussion.
My work is universal education. Everyone can understand the concept of democracy, but there is not enough application of the theory and too few people put it into practice. For a long time, there were only a few intellectuals doing it. Only by mobilizing more people to participate in and discuss politics will we be able to realize democracy.
I don't work on specific cases; I just give people pointers, equipping them with the law and Constitution. I provide them the tools to catch fish, but I don’t feed them any fish. They don't need much organization. Right now the power of Shanghai’s rights defense should be the strongest [in China]. Furthermore, the “Monitoring Bulletin” that I publish with my own funds is also sent to the central authorities and local authorities in Shanghai to educate people within the system.
HRIC: Today is Human Rights Day; what are your thoughts?
Feng Zhenghu: I work every day to protect rights. I am taking a rest on Human Rights Day because right now ordinary people are commemorating Human Rights Day, but the governments that participated in formulating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), including the United Nations and Western governments, are not treating human rights as an important issue. They also have forgotten the meaning of Human Rights Day, and instead push those of us who are without rights or power to the forefront to promote human rights.
The right that I demand, to return to my own country, is defined in international human rights covenants and the UN Charter. But I have been held up here for over 30 days and there has been no reaction from a single government. I don’t expect anything from these governments – if they can take care of their own affairs, then that would be fine. But they have forgotten the standards and values that they themselves formulated; the power of capital has surpassed everything.
In the realm of human rights, the Western countries are the adults and China is the child. The child models himself after the adults. If the United Nations and the formulators of the UDHR themselves are not concerned with the human rights situation, then our government will care even less, and will believe that Western nations are even worse and more hypocritical [than China is]. The UN and the formulators of the UDHR must take this seriously and not have me, a mere common person, promote human rights in this way. So I am resting today.
HRIC: What would you say if you had a chance to confront Chinese authorities?
Feng Zhenghu: I want to tell them: “You should respect the laws and Constitution that you yourselves have formulated; this is the basis for governing a country. The enemy is not foreign hostile forces but the bureaucratic system subordinate to you. The various levels of government, including the central government, should act in accordance with the law and the Constitution which they themselves formulated. I sincerely believe that China can develop better, and I believe that China can change.”
HRIC: What is your family’s situation now?
Feng Zhenghu: My wife teaches at a university; my son already graduated from university. I also have an older brother with whom I speak daily. They have told State Security officers, “Our entire family firmly stands by our demand that Feng Zhenghu return to China and return home!”