Communiqué on He Fangmei – August 26, 2019

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Submission to:

Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health

Communiqué on Behalf of HE Fangmei, Citizen of the People’s Republic of China, Alleging Arbitrary Detention, Deprivation of Rights to Expression, Assembly, and Association, and Reprisal against Human Rights Defenders

I. Identity

  1. Family name: HE (何)
  2. First name: Fangmei (方美)
  3. Sex: Female
  4. Birth date or age (at the time of detention): October 8, 1985
  5. Nationality/Nationalities: People’s Republic of China
  6. Identity document (if any): National ID Card:
  7. Profession and/or activity (if believed to be relevant to the arrest/detention):

He Fangmei had sought legislative action and compensation from Chinese government authorities following the disability of her daughter Li Qi (李琪, born July 21, 2016) in March 2018, which tests determined was caused by faulty vaccines. Ms. He’s daughter became paralyzed and was diagnosed with a neurological disease after receiving vaccinations for hepatitis A, measles, and other illnesses. Ms. He helped establish an advocacy group, “Vaccine Baby Home,” which organized families whose children also were stricken with severe illnesses and disabilities after receiving faulty vaccines. 

II. Arrest

1. Date of arrest: March 20, 2019 (criminal detention; previously served a 15-day administrative detention from March 5-20, 2019)

2. Place of arrest (as detailed as possible): Xinxiang City (following completion of 15-day administrative detention)

3. Forces who carried out the arrest or are believed to have carried it out: Police officers from the Huixian City Public Security Bureau (Henan Province)

4. Did they show a warrant or other decision by a public authority?Yes

5. Authority who issued the warrant or decision: Huixian City Public Security Bureau

6. Reasons for the arrest imputed by the authorities: “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”

7. Legal basis for the arrest including relevant legislation applied (if known): 

Article 293 of China’s Criminal Law (“picking quarrels and provoking trouble”) stipulates a fixed-term imprisonment of up to five years to those who (1) willfully attacking another person and the circumstances are serious; (2) chasing, intercepting, or cursing another person, and the circumstances are serious; (3) forcibly taking away, demanding, or willfully damaging or seizing public or private property; and the circumstances are serious; or (4) creating a disturbance in a public place, causing serious disorder.

III. Detention

1. Date of detention: April 26, 2019

2. Duration of detention (if not known, probable duration): He Fangmei has been continually criminally detained since March 20, 2019.

3. Forces holding the detainee under custody: Huixian City Public Security Bureau (Henan Province)

4. Places of detention (indicate any transfer and present place of detention): Xinxiang City Detention Center

5. Authorities that ordered the detention: Huixian City People’s Procuratorate

6. Reasons for the detention imputed by the authorities: “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”

7. Legal basis for the detention including relevant legislation applied (if known): 

Article 293 of China’s Criminal Law (“picking quarrels and provoking trouble”) stipulates a fixed-term imprisonment of up to five years to those who (1) willfully attacking another person and the circumstances are serious; (2) chasing, intercepting, or cursing another person, and the circumstances are serious; (3) forcibly taking away, demanding, or willfully damaging or seizing public or private property; and the circumstances are serious; or (4) creating a disturbance in a public place, causing serious disorder.

IV. Describe the circumstances of the arrest

He Fangmei was placed under criminal detention on March 20, 2019, immediately after completing a 15-day administrative detention in her hometown of Xinxiang City, Henan Province, which had begun on March 5. Ms. He had been forcibly returned to Xinxiang from Beijing on March 4, where she had been demonstrating with others whose children had been stricken with illness or disability due to receiving faulty vaccines. In Beijing, she had been secretly detained at Majialou Relief Station, an extralegal detention facility (or “black jail”), before being sent back to Henan.

V. Indicate reasons why you consider the arrests and/or detentions to be arbitrary

The detention of He Fangmei appears to be state retaliation for her advocacy for her family and the families of other child victims of faulty vaccines. Beginning in March 2018, when her daughter was disabled, Ms. He has faced various forms of state retaliation for her peaceful exercise of expression, assembly, and association rights.

He Fangmei initially appealed for accountability and compensation for her daughter’s disability to the Huixian Center for Disease Prevention and Control in Xinxiang City in Henan. However, authorities there refused to take responsibility for her daughter’s condition. Ms. He subsequently organized a group of families with children sickened by vaccinations, called “Vaccine Baby Home,” who jointly soughtaccountability, financial compensation, assistance with medical bills, and legislative action from central government officials. From the summer of 2018 to the time of her detention, Ms. He had gone to Beijing to present complaints, including abuse of power by government officials, to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (which investigates and disciplines Chinese Communist Party officials), the Ministry of Public Security, and China’s State Council. Officials eventually agreed to provide victimized children with medical treatment in Beijing; financial compensation, though also promised by authorities, has not yet materialized for the affected families. 

He Fangmei and others who have called for a vaccine law, more public information about vaccine safety, and compensation to cover mounting medical costs for their children have faced assault, intimidation, and harassment by police. In some cases, police have detained, beaten, and forcibly disappeared these campaigners. Authorities have warned Ms. He, her husband (Li Xin, 李新), and other advocates not to give interviews to domestic and foreign journalists, after several had done so. Ms. He, who has used the screen name “13 Sisters” (十三妹), also had been warned by national security officers not to post information about her advocacy on social media. In addition, police from Xinxiang City often trailed her when she went to Beijing, including at the hospital where her daughter was receiving medical treatment. 

Shortly before He Fangmei’s administrative detention in March 2019, police from Henan Province had seized her in Beijing on February 25, 2019, when she was demonstrating with over two dozen other parents in front of the National Health Commission. On that day, commission members were holding a press conference on the administration of vaccines in China. Shortly before being taken into custody, Ms. He had disseminated a video of the demonstration online. 

Since He Fangmei was placed under criminal detention in March 2019, her husband has been frequently monitored and harassed by “stability maintenance” personnel, who have also restricted his freedom of movement. For example, in mid-May 2019, Huixian security forces abducted him and his daughter after they had gone to Beijing, and forcibly sent them back to Huixian. 

On September 3-4, 2018, police detained He Fangmei, her husband, and other individuals around Tiananmen Square for protesting the government’s mishandling of scandals involving faulty vaccines and allegedly collecting donations to help care for their affected children. After He and Li were forcibly returned to Henan, local authorities prevented them from receiving passports on September 11, 2018, on the grounds that the couple’s potential travel may “endanger national security.” (He and Li had hoped to take their child overseas for medical treatment.) In another act of reprisal, the couple and their child were evicted from their home in Henan on September 13, 2018.

The above circumstances related to Ms. He’s treatment and detention constitute violations of her rights to peacefully exercise free expression, assembly, and association, including those guaranteed under Category II of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (i.e., when the deprivation of liberty results from the exercise of the rights under Articles 12, 18, 19, 21, 22, and 26), and freedoms guaranteed by Articles 18, 19, and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Authorities have attempted to coerce He Fangmei during her time in custody and violated her legal rights. Police have told He that she would be released only under conditions which would constitute self-incrimination for engaging in lawful rights-defense activities. Specifically, police told Ms. He that they would release her if she admits that she is guilty of the criminal charge against her. However, she has refused to do so.

During the period of He Fangmei’s criminal detention, police pressured her husband, Li Xin, to sign a “guarantee” pledging that Ms. He would not engage again in “illegal petitioning,” with police telling him it would supposedly help facilitate her release on bail. Li eventually signed the agreement under duress; however, Ms. He remained detained and was placed under formal arrest on April 26, 2019, just as the legal limit of 37 days for criminal detention under Chinese law approached. Police from Huixian City Public Security Bureau only two days later verbally informed Li Xin that Ms. He had been formally arrested. Mr. Li requested a written arrest notice from the police; he never received such a notice, though police have claimed that one was mailed to him.  

After He Fangmei was criminally detained, on March 20, 2019, she was deprived of access to a lawyer of her own or her family’s choice for three-and-a-half months, a violation of her rights according to both Chinese law (Article 32, Criminal Procedure Law) and international human rights standards. In denying a lawyer’s request to meet with Ms. He in early June, Huixian authorities specifically claimed that a visit would “endanger national security,” a pretext often used by Chinese authorities without valid legal basis to deprive rights defenders of legal counsel. A lawyer finally was able to meet with Ms. He on July 5, 2019, just days after her case had been transferred to Huixian City People’s Procuratorate. Following investigation into the charges against Ms. He, the procuratorate indicted He on July 26, 2019 and assigned the case for prosecution to Huixian City People’s Court. According to the indictment, prosecutors accused Ms. He of “picking quarrels” for soliciting for donations, shouting slogans outside the Beijing offices of two government departments, and unfurling a banner with slogans and disseminating it on overseas websites.  

The above circumstances constitute violations of Ms. He’s rights guaranteed under Category III of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 9) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 9).

Background on faulty vaccines

The issues with faulty vaccines that spurred Ms. He’s rights-defense advocacy involve one of the most significant public health scandals in China in recent years. Following the outbreak of allegations and a subsequent government investigation of the matter, Changsheng Biotechnology, a vaccine manufacturer based in China’s northern province of Jilin, was found to have sold 250,000 defective vaccines and fabricated inspections dating back to 2014. The state-owned Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, another major vaccine producer, was also found to be have been producing faulty inoculations for infants. In response to the scandal, Chinese authorities dismissed dozens of officials from these companies and levied fines on the manufacturers. In June, China’s legislature passed a law on vaccine administration in response to the scandal, to go into effect on December 1, 2019. The law was one of the demands of the Ms. He and the families’ campaign. 

VI. Indicate internal steps, including domestic remedies, taken especially with the legal and administrative authorities, particularly for the purpose of establishing the detention and, as appropriate, their results or the reasons why such steps or remedies were ineffective or why they were not taken.

After He Fangmei was taken into custody in March 2019, her husband, Li Xin, attempted to apply for an administrative appeal of her detention. However, Xinxiang City Public Security officials said that such an application required a handprint from He Fangmei, which would grant Li power of attorney to file an appeal. The handprint was not possible to obtain, however, since Ms. He at the time was being fully deprived of visitors, so Mr. Li was unable to file an appeal. 

After Ms. He’s case was transferred to the Huixian City People’s Procuratorate, in July 2019, her lawyer applied for her release on “bail pending investigation,” but the procuratorate refused this request. He applied again in August after she was indicted, but the request was again denied.

Mr. Li has sent complaints about Ms. He’s detention both electronically and through the post to several central authorities, all to no avail, including to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, the Ministry of Public Security, the Supreme People’s Court, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and the National Letters and Visits Bureau. Reportedly, these materials were sent by central authorities to a local body in Huixian, the Chenguanzhen Letters and Visits Office, potentially placing Mr. Li under threat of further reprisal from local authorities. 

Date of Submission: August 26, 2019

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