Skip to main content

Security tightens for China dissident after Chen

By Lara Farrar, for CNN
June 15, 2012 -- Updated 0451 GMT (1251 HKT)
Security has tightened for dissident Feng Zhenghu since the April escape of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng.
Security has tightened for dissident Feng Zhenghu since the April escape of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Life for Feng Zhenghu has become worse after the escape of a blind Chinese activist
  • Security doubled around Feng, who has been under house arrest without charge
  • "They are afraid I might run away too, and then [security officials] will all lose their jobs"
  • Feng garnered international attention after living for three months in Tokyo's Narita Airport

Shanghai, China (CNN) -- Since the high-profile escape of a blind Chinese activist in April, life has become worse for Feng Zhenghu, a dissident who lives in an apartment on the outskirts of this Chinese metropolis.

Feng, 57, is a human rights activist who garnered international media attention after living for three months in Tokyo's Narita Airport in 2009 while the Chinese government repeatedly stopped him from returning to the country. He has been living in Shanghai under house arrest for more than two years.

Since Chen Guangcheng, the blind dissident, dramatically escaped from home confinement in northern Shandong Province, the layers of security around Feng's apartment have multiplied. "They are very worried right now that in Shandong a blind person could escape such heavy security," said Feng, who ran afoul with authorities for his work helping people fight forced land evictions in China. "They are afraid I might run away too, and then they [security officials] will all lose their jobs. Their days are not easy right now."

Now, not one, but two police cars sit in front of his apartment everyday, all day. New security cameras and bright lights have been installed at the gate of the complex where Feng lives. There are more than a dozen guards watching him around-the-clock instead of only four or five guards in the past.

Feng, who is reachable via cellphone in his apartment, says that he is "living evidence" that government officials have become increasingly paranoid that other dissidents, too, might find a way to escape. "[After Chen Guangcheng's escape], they even sent somebody to the roof of my apartment building to check if I could go to the roof," Feng said.

Chen Guangcheng: I'm doing fine
Chinese dissident Chen's new life
'Thugs for hire' in China?
Chen leaves behind Chinese crackdown

"They can come to my home anytime without notice as they please. I have no privacy. I don't know why the government thinks I am such a threat and a demon and is so angry by my behavior."

Chen, who sought refuge in the United States Embassy in Beijing after his escape and is now in New York City, has detailed how he and his family -- who were forced to stay in a farmhouse in the Shandong Province for 19 months -- faced brutal treatment from local authorities.

In its annual report on global human rights last month, the U.S. State Department said there'd been a "deterioration in key aspects of human rights" in China, including detentions without charge. Beijing countered with a report of its own, criticizing the high level of gun violence in the U.S. and the country's military action overseas. "The United States' own tarnished human rights record has made it in no condition, on moral, political or legal basis, to act as the world's 'human rights justice,' to place itself above other countries and release the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices," said the report, released by China's State Council Information Office.

Zakaria: China calls out 'overcritical' U.S.

Feng is "one of countless individuals who suffer this same kind of abuse and indignity" in China, said Phelim Kine, a senior Asia researcher with the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Zheng Enchong, a human rights attorney, has been under house arrest in Shanghai since he was released from prison in 2006, Kine said. Liu Xia, the wife of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, "has disappeared," Kine said. After rights activist Hu Jia was released from a 42-month prison sentence for state subversion, he and his wife, Zeng Jinyan, have been under constant surveillance in Beijing, according to Human Rights Watch.

"It is absolutely appalling. It should not be happening. It goes against any semblance of conception of rule of law, which is part of the Chinese government's mantra," Kine said.

"You can bet the order that has gone out is clamp down on everyone so that there are no more Chen Guangchengs, no one is stepping out of line. It is only going to get worse in the months ahead," he added, referring to once-a-decade transfer of leadership at the top. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao are both in their final year of office.

Feng's situation is not dissimilar to Chen's, but it is different. Chen's detainment was in a rural village while Feng's third-floor apartment is across from a mega shopping mall with a couple of Starbucks, a Kentucky Fried Chicken, Wal-Mart, H&M and other Western brands. His home is also just down the street from Fudan University, one of China's top colleges, where Feng studied.

Unable to deal with the constant surveillance, Feng's wife recently left for Germany. "The police come all of the time without notice and just take whatever stuff they want," he said. "I don't have many things left for them to take, but they are here to give me pressure and make me feel insecure. It is no different than prison to me."

The only instance of violence Feng has encountered with his guards was an argument over the right to go outside to get fresh air, he said.

"I asked them many times, but they still would not let me," Feng said. "So I rushed out my door and one guy tried to stop me. We fell together and rolled down the stairs. We both were hurt very badly. My knee was injured, and I had to stay in bed for a week."

Feng is now allowed to go outside every afternoon for half an hour.

Besides fighting for time outside, Feng also fights boredom. A neighbor who visits the dissident when he is outside in the afternoon said that Feng and his guards usually talk about cooking, what is hot on television and how to stay healthy.

"How to cook fish, that was yesterday's topic," said the neighbor, who requested he only be identified by his English name, Georgie. "The subjects are very broad, and also the information that Feng Zhenghu can get is very limited, so they are one of the sources for him to know the news."

Asked by a reporter, the guards wouldn't comment on why they are here. Police in Yangpu District, which is where Feng lives, directed CNN inquiries to the press office of the Shanghai police. Calls to that office went unanswered.

Feng's neighbor said that most of the guards are migrant workers from provinces around Shanghai and make about 1,700 yuan ($266) per month. "It is just another job for them, a way for them to earn money," he said.

"If I escape, the guards, the local public security bureau chief, the district governor, they will all lose their jobs," Feng said. "I have been with them for two years, and I understand them. It is also hard for them, so I don't try to run away. It is a pretty hard life for them as it is for me."

He added: "If I ever get free, I will stay in Shanghai and continue defending the law. That is my life-long work."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
See CNN's complete coverage on China.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 0344 GMT (1144 HKT)
With a population of 1.3 billion, you'd think that there would be 11 people in China who are good enough to put up a fight on the football pitch.
July 4, 2014 -- Updated 0631 GMT (1431 HKT)
26-year-old Ji Cheng is the first rider from China to compete for competitive cycling's highest honor.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1124 GMT (1924 HKT)
China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, may not yet be a household name outside of China, but that could be about to change.
July 4, 2014 -- Updated 0414 GMT (1214 HKT)
Hong Kong's narrow streets were once a dazzling gallery of neon, where banks and even bordellos plied their trade under sizzling tubular signs.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1159 GMT (1959 HKT)
Three more officials have been given the chop as part of China's anti-corruption drive, including former aides to the retired security chief.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
As thousands of Hong Kongers prepare for an annual protest, voices in China's press warn pro-democracy activism is a bad idea.
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 0437 GMT (1237 HKT)
Hong Kongers are demanding the right to directly elect their next leader, setting up a face-off with Beijing.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 0656 GMT (1456 HKT)
The push for democratic reform in Hong Kong is testing China's "one country, two systems" model.
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Along a winding Chinese mountain road dotted with inns and restaurants is Jinan Orphanage, a place of refuge and site for troubled parents to dump unwanted children.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 0836 GMT (1636 HKT)
CNN's Kristie Lu Stout invites Isaac Mao, Han Dongfang, and James Miles to discuss the rise of civil society in China and social media's crucial role.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 0334 GMT (1134 HKT)
Chen Guangbiao wants rich people to give more to charity and he'll do anything to get their attention, including buying lunch for poor New Yorkers.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Architects are planning to build the future world's tallest towers in China. They're going to come in pretty colors.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Anna Coren visits Yulin's annual dog meat festival. Dogs are part of the daily diet here, with an estimated 10,000 dogs killed for the festival alone.
June 19, 2014 -- Updated 0638 GMT (1438 HKT)
People know little about sex, but are having plenty of it. We take a look at the ramifications of a lack of sex education in China.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 0812 GMT (1612 HKT)
Hong Kongers have reacted angrily to a Chinese government white paper affirming Beijing's control over the territory.
The emphasis on national glory -- rather than purely personal achievement -- is key.
June 16, 2014 -- Updated 1614 GMT (0014 HKT)
A replica of the Effel Tower in Tianducheng, a luxury real estate development located in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang province.
What's the Eiffel Tower doing in China? Replica towns of the world's most famous monuments spring up all over China.
June 11, 2014 -- Updated 0013 GMT (0813 HKT)
Rapid development hasn't just boosted the economy -- it has opened up vast swathes of the country, says a man who has spent much of his life exploring it.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0654 GMT (1454 HKT)
The World Cup is apparently making a lot of people "ill" in China.
ADVERTISEMENT