Activist Feng Zhenghu’s Illegal House Arrest Proves No Lessons Learned From Chen Guangcheng Abuses

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(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, May 24, 2012) – Two months before Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) dramatically escaped from illegal house arrest in Shandong Province, activist and legal advocate Feng Zhenghu (冯正虎) was put under similar illegal detention in his home in Shanghai. Feng, 57, is considered a hero among Shanghai petitioners and activists for his eventual successful return to China from Japan in February 2010 after staying in the Narita International Airport for more than three months while he repeatedly tried to fly back to Shanghai only to be denied re-entry. Since his return to Shanghai, Feng has faced constant pressure and harassment from the police: he’s been summoned for questioning numerous times, put under soft detention, involuntarily disappeared, and at other times pressured to go on “trips” with the police.


Beginning on February 27 of this year, more than a dozen plainclothes police officers from the Shanghai Public Security Bureau have been guarding Feng’s residential building and preventing him from leaving his apartment, even to buy groceries. His relatives, friends, and supporters also have been prevented from visiting him. In one instance, officers physically harassed Feng to force him back into his apartment when he simply tried to step outside; the incident caused injuries to Feng’s back and legs, but police did not allow him to go to the hospital to seek medical treatment. His phone has been tapped, cell phone confiscated, and his internet connection cut off. Shanghai petitioners and activists who have tried to visit Feng and bring him food and other daily necessities have been harassed and intimidated.


“The illegal house arrest of Feng, similar to the treatment that Chen Guangcheng was subjected to, says that this form of persecution is certainly not unique to Shandong. Without any publicly known investigation underway by Chinese authorities of Shandong officials’ abuses of Chen Guangcheng and his family, this type of arbitrary detention will continue and spread,” said Renee Xia, international director of CHRD.


Relying on supporters for his food and other daily necessities while under house arrest, Feng has been using a rope to pull food and other items up to the balcony of his third-floor apartment. He can only wave from there to his supporters, many of whom are petitioners who themselves have sought redress for rights violations with Feng’s assistance. Those supporting Feng have protested his illegal house arrest at the Shanghai Municipal People’s Congress, the municipal government, the Shanghai High People’s Court, and other government bodies, but to no avail. Authorities in Shanghai have not filed any criminal charges against Feng nor produced any legal documentation justifying his house arrest.

In recent years, Feng has become a leading voice among activists and petitioners in Shanghai. He has provided legal advice and organized Shanghai petitioners to petition the National People’s Congress and gather at local courts and the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing to demand that their administrative lawsuits against corrupt officials and government agencies be heard in courts.

While Chen Guangcheng’s extralegal house arrest may have been unique in its length and intensity, other activists like Feng Zhenghu as well as their family members continue to suffer from similar forms of arbitrary detention and retaliation for their activism. In Dongshigu Village in Shandong, some of Chen’s relatives continue to live incommunicado under unlawful house arrest. In Beijing, Liu Xia (刘霞), wife of imprisoned Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), has been under tight police monitoring and cut off from communication with the outside world since October 2010. And human rights lawyer Zheng Enchong (郑恩宠), also in Shanghai, remains under constant surveillance and is closely guarded when he leaves his home, and he has often been prevented from meeting visitors. In 2011, CHRD documented 163 incidences of “soft detention”, which includes its extreme form of application known as illegal house arrest, of human rights defenders (HRDs), and it is suspected that the number is far higher. According to a survey conducted of 57 HRDs, 25% reported being subjected to soft detention to various degrees in 2011, with one HRD reported being placed under illegal house arrest 15 times that year.

“The U.S. government, after brokering Chen Guangcheng’s travel with his family to the US to take up a fellowship at NYU Law School, must continue raising concerns about the use of extralegal house arrest against activists in China,” said Renee Xia. “This is a problem when Chinese leaders are claiming to build a country with ‘rule of law,’ and it’s a good issue to raise during the US-China human rights dialogue coming up later this summer. The EU should do the same in the upcoming EU-China human rights dialogue.”

Feng Zhenghu was trained as an economist and studied in Japan before returning to China in the late 1990s, when he started a business in Shanghai. He was imprisoned for three years for “illegal business activity” in 2001.  Since his release in 2004, he has written articles highlighting alleged malpractice by local governments and forced evictions of Shanghai residents. A signatory of “Charter 08,” Feng also edits a publication called “Inspection Brief” (督察简报) that provides legal analysis of officials’ conduct, and which is reportedly circulated widely and read even by government officials. Since his return to China after his protest at the Narita International Airport, police have searched the residence more than 10 times and confiscated many of his personal belongings, including 13 computers as well as several printers and cell phones.


Extralegal house arrest,  a practice which has now become widely known because of the case of Chen Guangcheng, is also known as an extreme form of application of “soft detention” (软禁). Individuals subjected to soft detention are guarded by police stationed outside their homes. Though some individuals may be allowed to leave their homes, they are closely followed and monitored by police, or are required to travel in police vehicles and are often barred from meeting other “sensitive” individuals. The length of the detention period will usually last until the “sensitive period” which triggered the detention has passed or, in rare cases, it may be extended for months or even years. As seen with many Chinese activists and dissidents targeted by authorities, actual conditions during soft detention are rarely limited to simple surveillance; police often resort to physical harassment and violent behavior in order to intimidate those being detained and completely cut them off from the outside world.” Soft detention” has no basis in Chinese law and is not encompassed by regulations governing “residential surveillance” (监视居住), which is authorized under China’s Criminal Procedure Law.

Media Contacts

Renee Xia, International Director,

+852 8191 6937 or +1 240 374 8937,

Wang Songlian, Research Coordinator,

+852 8191 1660,



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