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Chinese Activist Claims Victory in Airport Sit-In

This story was filed by CBS News Beijing producer Steven Jiang.


(CBS)
After camping out at Japan's busiest international airport for almost three months, a Chinese human rights activist is ending his extraordinary protest with a claim of victory.

"I will be going home sometime before the Chinese New Year, (February 14) and can't wait to see my 90-year-old mother," Feng Zhenghu, 55, told CBS News over the phone. "I have achieved my goal of showing everyone that we have to fight for our legal rights."

Feng has been an unusual fixture at Narita Airport's Terminal 1 since Nov. 4. He refused to leave the airport in Japan to draw worldwide attention to his own government's refusal to allow him back home. Authorities had denied him entry to Shanghai eight times since June. All he wanted to do was go back home.

Feng, an economist-turned-lawyer who has a long history of supporting pro-democracy movements, has said he infuriated Shanghai officials by exposing their corruption and wrongdoing in his writings.

Following three recent meetings with officials from the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo, Feng now plans to clear immigration at Narita on Wednesday and stay with relatives in Japan for a few days before flying back to Shanghai.

"Returning home is my right as a Chinese citizen – I never negotiated that," he emphasizes. "I am doing this as a gesture of good faith in response to the sincerity of the embassy officials."

Human rights groups say both the Japanese government and the United Nations have pressed Beijing to solve the case, as it is against international norm to expel one's own citizen to a third country.

Click below to watch Feng's interview with CBS from November 2009:

Feng's highly publicized campaign is also increasingly embarrassing for Shanghai authorities, who are preparing to host the World Expo from May to October. Asked about Feng at a press conference on Sunday, the mayor of Shanghai said local officials would deal with him "in strict accordance with the country's entry-exit laws."

During his lengthy stay at Narita, Feng has become an unlikely celebrity in the terminal, and online. Every day, sympathetic flight crews and passengers bring him fresh food and other basic provisions. More than 14,000 people follow his ordeal on Twitter, and it has caught the eye of global media.

But that global limelight is likely to dim when Feng returns to Shanghai, which is worrying some observers.

"He may be detained, he may face serious retaliation by officials — if everyone forgets him, the authorities will have no qualms about punishing him," Nicholas Bequelin, a senior Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, tells CBS News. "He will be a lot more constrained back home than at Narita – even Twitter is blocked in China."

Brushing such concerns aside, Feng — who was once jailed in Shanghai for three years on what he says were trumped-up charges — says he will face up to the challenges ahead and continue advocating the rule of law.

As China's economic and political rise continues to chip away at the influence of the United States and other developed nations, Bequelin argues that many Chinese people have stopped looking to the West to promote human rights in their own country. They're taking matters into their own hands.

Feng couldn't agree more. But for now, he has other priorities in mind when he finally leaves the airport.

"I need to take a bath and get a haircut."

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