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How exile Feng Zhenghu is taking on China's bullying -- from an airport

Feng Zhenghu, the activist stuck at a Japanese airport, is igniting hope to other exiled Chinese.

By Xiaoping Chen / January 13, 2010

Madison, Wis

A Chinese human rights activist, Feng Zhenghu, has been camping out, sleeping on a bench and surviving on handouts at the Narita International Airport in Japan since Nov. 4, 2009.

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No, this is not a remake of the film “The Terminal” with Tom Hanks starring as a man with no country, it’s a real-life situation. What’s at stake are individual rights to due process and the right of Chinese citizens not to be intimidated by their own government.

Mr. Feng’s protest exposes the insecurity that is haunting the emerging superpower that is China – and is helping the international community see that this Communist government is trampling on its own laws and Constitution.

It’s also helped inspire – and bring international attention – to the plight of hundreds of exiled Chinese in the United States, Japan, and Europe, including the author of this article, who has also been deprived of the right to go home.

Feng’s story

After the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, Feng openly criticized the repression and was under investigation for more than a year. He studied in Japan and returned to China but was detained and sentenced to three years in prison for what he has called “trumped-up charges of illegal business activity.”

Last year, Feng visited his sister in Japan ,and when he was ready to go home to Shanghai, the Chinese government denied him entry. After eight failed attempts to return, despite having a valid visa for Japan, he has decided to protest at the airport and wait for the Chinese government to change its mind.

Others in exile

I came to the US on a Niemann Fellowship at Harvard University in 1997 and stayed to pursue an advanced degree in law. Before my Chinese passport expired in 2002, I went to have it renewed but my request was rejected. When I called to seek an explanation, an official left me a voice mail, saying that I “should be able to figure out the reason for the rejection.”

I had been imprisoned for two years in China before my arrival in the US. Certainly my leadership role in the 1989 pro-democracy movement and my ensuing criticism of the Chinese government were key contributing factors.

Consequently, I, too, have become one of many Chinese banished unjustly. In the past nine years, I have written to China’s legislature and the Chinese government. My many petitions have gone unanswered. Without a passport, I haven’t been able to travel outside the US, let alone visit my family and relatives in China.

China has effectively kept political dissidents out of the country and discouraged antigovernment activities abroad by refusing to renew passports for Chinese citizens, rejecting visa applications from activists who are naturalized American citizens or granting residents such as Feng and myself the right to leave the country but then denying them reentry.