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China activist in for long haul at Tokyo airport

A Chinese human rights activist, denied entry to his homeland, has been living in the arrivals section of Tokyo's Narita Airport for more than a month, in a real life version of the Hollywood film, the Terminal.

The BBC's Tokyo correspondent, Roland Buerk, went to meet Feng Zhenghu.

Chinese activist Feng Zhengdu
Feng Zhenghu is a Chinese citizen but has not been allowed to enter China

All day long and well into the night, planes land at Narita airport.

It is the busiest hub in Japan, full of passengers hurrying to their final destinations.

But amid the bustle one man stands still and alone.

Feng Zhenghu is going nowhere.

Described by Amnesty International as a prominent "human rights defender" he has been blocked from returning home to China.

Four times airlines refused to let him board a plane.

On four occasions he got as far as Shanghai airport - only to be swiftly dispatched back to Japan.

The last time round the 55-year-old decided enough was enough and set up camp in Narita, outside Tokyo.

"The thing I want to do now is go to my country and go back home," he said. "That is the only thing I want."

Unlikely celebrity

For more than a month Feng Zhenghu has been living in a no man's land, stuck between the arrivals gates and passport control in Terminal 1.

It's very difficult because people stare at me as though I'm a beggar... I feel ashamed
Feng Zhenghu

Tens of thousands of people who pass through the airport every day see him.

He wears a t-shirt with details of his plight written on it in English.

Another, in Mandarin, is stretched over his suitcase as a kind of portable protest banner.

He has turned into something of an unlikely celebrity, so some stop to pose for pictures.

Although Feng Zhenghu says he has never seen it he agrees his situation is rather like the Hollywood film The Terminal.

Conditions are far worse for him, he says, than the character played by Tom Hanks, who was in a departure lounge with a food court and shops to roam.

Planes at Narita airport, Tokyo - 12 September 2009
Narita is Japan's busiest airport

Every other passenger passes through Narita's arrivals area in minutes, so there are no restaurants, in fact no facilities at all.

Feng Zhenghu survives on handouts.

"Passengers who get off flights give me food, so I have enough," he says, pointing to a hold-all full of sweets, biscuits and noodles.

"But I can't sleep very well. Only at 11 or midnight can I go to sleep because that's when flights stop coming in. But I can't sleep beyond 0500 because that's when flights start arriving.

"There's no shower, no bath. It's very difficult because people stare at me as though I'm a beggar. It's very, very difficult. It's very hard to endure psychologically. I feel ashamed."

Long wait

Equipped with a mobile phone and laptop he is keeping in touch with the outside world by blogging and tweeting.

Feng Zhenghu has a valid Japanese visa in his Chinese passport so the airport authorities could force him to leave the building, but so far they have chosen not to.

Even though he does not speak much Japanese, staff at the airport say they have grown fond of their uninvited guest.

"He's my friend, he's a friend to all of us," said Yoshiyuki Kurita. "He's been here more than 30 days. I want him to understand his situation and to enter Japan willingly."

But Feng Zhenghu hopes his solitary purgatory in so public a place will persuade the Chinese government to let him go home.

And he says he is prepared to wait for as long as it takes.



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