Mao Hengfeng's Bittersweet Homecoming

August 8, 2011

Mao Hengfeng with her three daughters.

Mao Hengfeng, a human rights defender in China, a wife, and a mother of three, has just been released from her most recent bout of detention and torture — an experience so brutal that her life is at urgent risk.

Her crime? Advocating on behalf of women’s reproductive rights, the victims of forced evictions in Shanghai, and other Chinese human rights defenders.

Mao’s most recent arrest was a result of her protest in front of the Beijing municipal intermediate court expressing support for human rights activist and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo. On March 4, 2010, Mao was sentenced to 18 months in Re-education Through Labor.

While in detention, Mao suffered torture and abuse at the hands of the guards, the police, and even other inmates who were instructed to beat her. Her health deteriorated so dramatically that she was released on medical parole on February 22, 2011, but detained again a mere two days later.

While Mao Hengfeng was in transit to Shanghai City Prison Hospital on February 24, she was continuously beaten in the police car until she lost consciousness. During her time in the prison hospital, she was not allowed to communicate with her family, shower or bathe. If she moved without permission, she was beaten.

On July 28, 2011, the prison hospital released Mao Hengfeng while she was unconscious in a wheelchair. Her family had not received any advance notice about her release. In previous cases, Shanghai detainees have been returned to their homes shortly before dying so that the police and authorities can “wash their hands” of culpability for the deaths of the detainees.

Bearing this in mind, Mao’s husband Wu Xuewei requested that the Shanghai authorities send her to a nearby motel. When her family then attempted to transfer her to a public hospital, ten police officers guarding the motel prohibited her from leaving.

By July 31, Mao’s condition had ameliorated slightly, and she asked her husband to take her to church. When the police officers discovered her absence, they followed her to the church and aggressively attempted to beat her. Although members of the congregation intervened, the police warned Mao she could be detained again and that next time, she could die in detention.

In the past seven years, Mao has been tortured so often and with such severity that at one point she partially lost feeling on the left half of her body, and while at another time she lost sight and hearing for 24 hours. Shortly before the two-day medical parole in  February, a doctor found signs of bleeding in her brain from a CT scan. On the day before authorities decided to end Mao Hengfeng’s detention, she kept slipping in and out of consciousness, unable to eat or drink water.

As a result of the physical and mental abuse, Mao Hengfeng has contemplated suicide. She persevered, however, thanks to the international support that she has received over the years, including Amnesty International members.

Stand up for Mao Hengfeng, for her bravery in the face of the atrocities committed by the Chinese authorities and for her commitment to legitimate and peaceful human rights activities.