The Conviction of Mao Hengfeng: Trump-up Charges against a Human Rights Defender

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Immediate release

The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders

January 18, 2007

The Conviction of Mao Hengfeng:

Trump-up Charges against a Human Rights Defender

On January 12, 2007, Shanghai authorities convicted activist/petitioner Mao Hengfeng, female, for “damaging hotel property” and sentenced her to two-and-half years in jail. CRD condemns the conviction, a politically motivated act of retaliation against a human rights defender for her persistent petitioning efforts and protests against abuses of housing rights and women’s reproductive rights.

Apparently in anticipation of a surge of Chinese citizens flocking to Beijing to seek hearings of their grievances against local authorities during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Chinese authorities have stepped up harsh crackdowns on petitioners, including use of police violence as witnessed in the case of petitioner Duan Huiming who was beaten to death by Shanghai police in Beijing where he was intercepted while trying to file petition (

Mao Henfeng’s conviction is yet another case of a harsh sentence based on trumped up charges after a long period of illegal detention. This pattern has characterized the recent retaliation against human rights defenders in general – especially Chen Guangcheng, Gao Zhisheng, Guo Qizhen, and Yan Zhengxue. CRD demands the immediate and unconditional release of Mao Henfeng and all other imprisoned human rights defenders.

On January 12, when the trial opened, several hundred fellow petitioners gathered outside the court to show their support. Police denied them entry into the court room to observe the trial.

During the trial, Mao Henfeng tried to tell the judges about her mistreatment and abuse during her year-long detention. She said that she was put under solitary confinement in filthy and unsanitary conditions. Prison guards put a mask on her in order to prevent her from verbally protesting. The judges ignored her.

Prosecutors accused Mao Henfeng of breaking two desk lamps worth the value of about $900 during her detention by police at a guest house. Lawyers for Ms. Mao argued that the hotel only asked guests to pay the equivalent of $7 for each damaged lamp and that the prosecutor should produce the receipts for the particular lamps to prove the extraordinarily high costs they cited. The prosecutors refused. The judges did not ask for the receipts. In an unusual move, indicating a pre-determined sentencing, the court announced its verdict immediately upon the closing of the trial.

Mao Henfeng will file an appeal through her lawyer. Her lawyers were harassed and physically assaulted when they went to visit Mao Hengfeng before the trial. Today, January 17, Mao’s husband Wu Xuewei was questioned in relation to the several hundred supporters outside the courtroom. He was warned not to speak publicly about the case.


Mao, the mother of twins, was reportedly dismissed from her job in 1988 because she became pregnant for a second time with a third child, in violation of China’s “one child” birth regulations. Mao Hengfeng refused to undergo an abortion and she was subsequently incarcerated at a psychiatric hospital, where she was forcibly injected with various drugs. She nevertheless continued the pregnancy, giving birth to a girl prematurely on February 28, 1989. She was then notified in March 1989 that she had been dismissed from her job for missing sixteen days at work.

Mao won an appeal about her dismissal according to regulations under China’s Labour Law. She got her job back according to a ruling by the Shanghai Municipal Labour Arbitration Committee. However, the soap factory where she worked disputed the ruling, and appealed to Shanghai Yangpu District Court. Mao was seven months pregnant with her fourth child at the time of the appeal hearing. The judge reportedly told her that if she terminated her pregnancy, he would rule in her favor. She refused and lost her job. And she continued to try to get a hearing from authorities on her case.

Mao Hengfeng was detained after she traveled to Beijing to petition authorities for her own and others’ grievances (mostly about housing rights abuses and forced eviction) at the time of the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress in March 2004. Authorities ruled that her petitioning “disturbed social order.” Her welfare allowances were discontinued when she was sent to the Re-education through Labor camp for 18 months in April 2004.

She was released on September 12, 2005. She continued to play an active role in housing activists/petitioners’ protests and suffered further abuses along with her husband, Wu Xuewei, who has also been subjected to beatings and threatened with criminal charges. Both have been at risk of persecution, including arbitrary detention and torture or ill-treatment.

Several days after her release, Mao Hengfeng and her family were reportedly held under a form of “house arrest” from 23-27 September, 2005. Officials tried to prevent her from contacting a UN office in Beijing about the abuses she and other Shanghai petitioners had suffered. She was placed under house arrest again from September 29, to October 11, 2005 during the National Day holidays and the fifth plenary session of the 16th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.

She was detained again in Beijing when she went there to petition the central government on January 24, 2006. She was released on Feb. 8 and detained again on Feb. 13 for 45 days. In mid-May, police detained her and then filed charges against her for “damaging hotel property” in the guest house used by police to detain her in Feb. 2006.

Mao was featured in CRD’s 2006 report “Hazardous Times for Human Rights Defenders”

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