Fears Grow in China Over Safety of Disappeared, Pregnant Vaccine Campaigner

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Originally published by Radio Free Asia on 27 October, 2020

Rights activists in China and overseas say they are increasingly concerned about the safety of He Fangmei, who ‘disappeared’ earlier this month after campaigning for compensation after her daughter was made sick by a faulty vaccine administered in the central province of Henan.

Henan police detained He, who is pregnant, on Oct. 9, after she splashed ink on a government building in Henan’s Hui county for a second time, in protest against unsafe vaccines.

She had made a similar protest on Oct. 2, after which police detained her and handed down a 10-day administrative detention but released her without enforcing the sentence because she is pregnant, the overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network reported on its website.

He Fangmei is now believed to be under house arrest at an unknown government-designated location with her children, while her husband Li Xin has been taken away by police, CHRD said.

Fellow activist and tainted vaccine victim Tan Hua told RFA in a recent interview that He is being held in unofficial detention by the local police.

“She hasn’t come home yet, and she is being held by the public security bureau with no paperwork,” Tan said. “Her eldest son is being taken care of by the neighborhood committee.”

Tan said He is being held alongside her disabled daughter.

“I have been to the local government to inquire, but they haven’t responded with the current situation,” she said. “She is pretty much incommunicado.”

Twitter users familiar with the case continued to express concern about He’s situation this week.

“Attention Twitter users! He Fangmei, a human rights defender, and her family have been taken by the police in Hui county, Henan and are still incommunicado,” Twitter user Zhou Yutian tweeted late on Monday.

Twitter user Wang Jianhong wrote: “This family has been forcibly disappeared since Oct. 9, taken away by Hui county police … with no documentation given to relatives.”

Detained, harassed

He’s detention comes after she successfully sued the Hui county Center for Disease Control and Prevention over the faulty vaccine given to her daughter in 2018.

However, she has been repeatedly detained and harassed by the local authorities as she has pursued her complaints, and has been prevented from traveling to Beijing to seek medical treatment for her daughter.

A person familiar with the case who has been in contact with He Fangmei told this station that her husband Li Xin had earlier traveled to Beijing to publicize his wife’s disappearance.

But the authorities cut off his cell phone, and were putting him under intense pressure to return to Henan, last time he made contact, the person said.

Repeated calls to Hui county ruling Chinese Communist Party secretary Guo Shupei, and to Hui county police chief Guo Shaoping, resulted in a cut-off connection during office hours earlier this month.

Authorities ‘largely unresponsive’

Ye Hongzhen, a vaccine victim from the central province of Hubei, told RFA in a recent interview that the authorities have been largely unresponsive to attempts to get compensation, and that a recently announced vaccine liability insurance scheme was unlikely to change much for victims.

“Last year, vaccine victims submitted so many opinions, but they never adopted any of it,” Ye told RFA. “The investigators on these cases are acting as both player and referee.”

“They won’t pay our medical expenses, and they won’t even admit that it was their vaccine that disabled our child,” she said.

She said compensation payouts under the scheme were highly unlikely to cover victims’ medical expenses for damage to their health that would likely last the rest of their lives.

Li Xin and He Fangmei have repeatedly called for legislation to regulate compensation claims from victims of faulty vaccines.

Reported by Rita Cheng and Xiao Yibing for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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